This was originally published in The Athletic.
The Cincinnati Bearcats’ proud basketball past loomed over the first real game played in Fifth Third Arena 2.0 Wednesday night. Kenyon Martin and Steve Sanders christened the new place with ceremonial baskets. Ruben Patterson and Corie Blount watched the game from seats that probably cost slightly less than most compact cars. Other former players gawked at the upgraded digs, wearing expressions that combined wonder with envy.
But looming even larger were past greats who weren’t there to watch the Bearcats clang and bonk their way to a 64-56 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Gary Clark was absent. So was Jacob Evans. Kyle Washington didn’t suit up either.
Obviously – although more painfully so today after watching UC’s first game without three of its top four scorers from a year ago – Mick Cronin has been tasked with replacing a ton from last year’s conference title-winning squad. Only those among college basketball’s upper crust glide smoothly from season to season while continually losing the kind of trio that helped lead one of the school’s finest-ever teams last season. And there are many programs that would be in a lot worse shape than UC is right now had two players with NBA credentials moved on.
It might not seem so after watching the Bearcats shoot a staggering 13.8 percent in the first half Wednesday, but there’s still a lot for Cronin to work with, and as ugly as New Fifth Third’s first game was, I’ll put a large degree of trust in a head coach who’s overseen rebuilds that started with less.
But man, this is going to be an uphill battle, at least in the short term.
To read the entire piece, go to The Athletic.
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