We don’t cover teams outside of the Big East on this site, so I reached out to a Cincinnati Bearcats writer. I e-mailed Matt Opper who runs Down The Drive, Cincinnati’s SBNation website. I highly recommend you check out the site if you have a chance, Matt does a great job running it. I read one of his articles the other night, and it was really good (Basketball Arena Is Now Mike Bohn's Top Issue, Really Its His Only Issue).
I emailed Matt several questions, and he answered them for me. All of this is verbatim, I didn’t change a thing. So, I present to you an Early Look at Cincinnati:
1. What is the future of the AAC? How will losing Louisville affect how the conference is seen from an outside perspective?
Losing Louisville hurts obviously, but perception isn't really a problem for the league as a whole. It’s never going to be considered the best conference in the country, so that's not what anyone is building to. This is still a good, if very top heavy, basketball league. UConn is the most successful basketball program in the country over the last two decades, and that is really not even debatable at this point. Memphis has a long history, and UC is getting back to where they were at the turn of the millennium. Those are three pretty good cornerstones for any league to have.
2. The Bearcats come into the 2014-2015 season without prolific scorer Sean Kilpatrick for the first time in 5 years, as well as leaper Justin Jackson and solid big Titus Rubles. These are three big loses, how do you think these loses will affect this team?
I am optimistic that the team as a whole will be better. What those three seniors did last year was amazing, but the truth is that it was a team that was held together with duct tape and Sean Kilpatrick's scoring. There was no frontline depth to speak of, and the Bearcats played a ton of offensive lineups that featured two non-threats in Titus Rubles and Ge`lawn Guyn. Rubles has moved on and Guyn isn't going to be the point guard, Troy Caupain will be, that alone should make them better offensively. These Bearcats will have far more scoring punch, but with the exception of Shaq Thomas, that scoring isn't going to be coming from people that are known to the wider world.
3. Who are some new faces for the Bearcats? What do they bring to the table?
Kevin Johnson and Desaun Morman are names to remember for this year. Morman is an NBA caliber athlete playing on the wing, which is something the Bearcats haven't had for a while, and Kevin Johnson is probably going to lead the Bearcats in scoring this year. As it stands now he would be my prediction. Bearcat fans are very excited about these two.
4. How do you feel about the "Crosstown Shootout" returning to the campuses of UC and Xavier? Do you like the game being played in late February during the middle of the conference season?
Wait and see. The game will be fine this year because it is at UC, and the administration has done a pretty good job of keeping things under wraps. It’s when the game goes back to Cintas that the people at X have to do a better job controlling the environment. I have no problem with the taunts or the chants, it comes with the territory, but the targeting of the UC bench for throwing objects, be it coins, batteries, and bottles whatever has to stop. That has been an issue in this game for quite a while. There is a reason that most of the coaches don't bring their wives and children to this game when it’s at Xavier.
5. Who do you think wins this year’s game and why?
UC, the home court gives them an edge, plus I think the Bearcats will be much better in February than they will be in December.
6. How will the Bearcats do this season? What will their record be and will they make the post-season?
20+ wins and an NCAA tournament bid. Those are just the expectations now.
7. I know you don't like Xavier, but give me your prediction for this year’s Musketeer's team:
There you have it according to Matt Opper from Down The Drive. One thing to remember is this is a very early look at not only this game, but the season. The season is still over two months away and this game is 6 months away. Come winter time the outlook for this game will be much clearer. The same can be said for the importance of it. I think Matt made a good point when saying 20+ wins and a tourney bid are the expectations now for the Bearcats and the Musketeers. UC has been as consistent as any good program since Mick Cronin took over and are no longer in the old Big East, arguably the best basketball conference in the history of college basketball.
They are now in a league, the AAC, where they should be expected to win 20 games and make the post-season every year, which couldn’t be said when they used to be in a league with 5 or more teams consistently in the AP top 25 week-to-week. As for Xavier, they are no longer a mid-major. They are in the Big East now, far from what it once was, but still a highly competitive conference. We now live in the age where both of these teams are expected to be consistently good every year, and those expectations only make this Xavier-UC rivalry a better one each season.