NC A&T-Cincinnati Preview

The Associated Press

A favorable early schedule is allowing Cincinnati the chance to showcase a group of reserves it hopes will be a valuable asset throughout the season.

Coach Mick Cronin should again get a good look at his bench Sunday when the No. 24 Bearcats host North Carolina A&T.

With its first four games against lower-tier teams from the Ohio Valley, Southwestern Athletic, Mid-Eastern and Big South Conferences, Cincinnati (2-0) is not expected to receive a serious test until next weekend in Las Vegas. That's where the Bearcats will play in the Global Sports Classic, starting Friday against Iowa State and ending Saturday with a matchup versus Oregon or No. 18 UNLV.

Until then, Cincinnati will try to keep its focus and fine-tune some things.

That includes evaluating a bench Cronin hopes can provide consistent contributions unlike last season. The Bearcats finished 26-11 but ranked near the bottom of the nation in bench production at 11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

"We have a (fast-paced) style and a system that we have been building since last spring to have a great team this year," Cronin said. "A big part of that is our guys knew that depth was an issue. It hurt us in the (NCAA regional semifinal loss to Ohio State) and the Big East championship game.

"Our veteran guys understand you have to have quality play off the bench if you are going to have an elite team."

Despite 30 points off the bench in Cincinnati's 80-57 win over Tennessee-Martin last Sunday, Cronin felt his reserves could have played better. They did Tuesday, totaling 45 points and recording 12 of the team's 20 assists in a 102-60 rout of Mississippi Valley State.

"Now that we know what our second unit, what our bench can do against other teams, I feel a little better than I did the other game," said swingman Sean Kilpatrick, who had 20 points and eight rebounds Tuesday.

While starters like Kilpatrick (17.0 points per game), Cashmere Wright (13.5) and JaQuon Parker (10.5) will be counted on to the carry the load, they would certainly feel more comfortable with effective backups. Reserve Titus Rubles has 16 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists through two games, while 7-footer David Nyarsuk and Jeremiah Davis III have combined to score 31 off the bench.

As a team, Cincinnati has shot 51.9 percent from the field while limiting its first two opponents to 31.3 percent. The Bearcats, however, need to be more careful after committing 34 turnovers.

"We've got a lot of work to do and a lot of improving," Wright said. "If you want to play this style and win games and actually make it to where we want to make it, we've got to take care of the ball. You've got to realize what you can and can't do in the offense."

Cincinnati looks to cut down on those mistakes when it faces North Carolina A&T (1-2) for the first time since a 105-69 home win Dec. 30, 2005.

The Aggies will try to avoid a third straight defeat after falling 56-44 to Wright State on Friday. Junior Lamont Middleton was held to six points after scoring 36 in the first two contests.

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