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Basketball preview: Cincinnati Bearcats, Sean Kilpatrick head into new American Athletic Conference

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick figures the conference schedule won't be so brutal now that Cincinnati is out of the Big East, and that's not such a bad thing.

The Bearcats revived their program in one of the nation's toughest basketball leagues over the last few years. When the Big East morphed into a basketball-only league, Cincinnati was stuck in the American Athletic Conference, which will be in flux for the first two years.

It'll be a lot different.

"In the Big East, we were playing in the best conference in America at that time, being able to go day-in and day-out playing against teams like Syracuse and Georgetown," Kilpatrick said. "Who knows what it's going to be this year?"

Cincinnati went 22-11 last season, finished tied for ninth in the Big East, and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats return a core of experienced players to go with five freshmen in the inaugural AAC season.

RELATED: UC's schedule for the 2013-14 basketball season

RELATED: A look at Cincinnati's roster for the 2013-14 season

Kilpatrick was fifth in the Big East with 17 points per game last season and is positioned to finish his career as one of Cincinnati's all-time leading scorers.

Here are five things to watch with the Bearcats this season:

SK'S GOODBYE: Kilpatrick has 1,444 career points and is on pace to become only the second player in school history to get 2,000. Hall of Fame standout Oscar Robertson finished with 2,973. He's prepared to get a lot of attention from opposing defenses, and worked on his ball handling and movement in the offseason.

"There's going to be teams this year that their best defender if not two defenders are going to be on me," Kilpatrick said. "That's something I've been working on a lot, just getting open and finding the open man when I do have the double team."

GETTING THE POINT: With Cashmere Wright gone, the point guard position falls to junior Ge'Lawn Guyn, who has never started a game and averages only 2.3 points. If he struggles, one of the freshmen could earn time at the spot. Coach Mick Cronin challenged Guyn to be more committed to doing what's needed from a point guard and likes what he's seen in practice.

"Maybe me telling him he doesn't get to play just because Cash graduated woke him up, I don't know," Cronin said. "Maybe playing against the freshmen and realizing they're pretty good woke him up. But he's been great."

JACKSON AND RUBLES: Senior forwards Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles bulked up in the offseason and have worked on becoming better scorers close to the basket, something Cincinnati really needs. Both are solid defensive players and shot blockers, but Jackson averages only 3.8 points and Rubles 5.9. They also have to grow into the role of leaders for all the newcomers.

"We talk about situations where the freshmen may panic, and we've got to be leaders and show them hey, it's still a ballgame," Rubles said. "We talk about that kind of stuff all the time."

Cronin likes the way Rubles and Jackson handle themselves.

"I'd say (Rubles) and Justin are two of the toughest, hardest playing, most athletic guys in the country," Cronin said. "I lose sleep over him and Justin graduating because those guys are extremely tough dudes."

FIVE FRESHMEN: The Bearcats welcome their best recruiting class under Cronin, including three guards, a center and forward Jermaine Lawrence. The five freshmen give Cronin a more athletic roster, even if the newcomers are still trying to figure things out. Asked how the guards are doing, Kilpatrick said, "It's been a pretty good adventure, but we know with all the young guys - especially with so many - we still have a lot of work to do."

NOT THE BIG EAST: Kilpatrick will miss playing the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, one of his favorite spots. He won't miss the grind of playing one ranked team after another during conference play, which he figures will work in the Bearcats' favor. They went 9-9 in the Big East last season.

"We're so used to being in the Big East playing constant (tough) games that it will be a little bit better for us physically," he said. "So we'll be all right."

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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