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Fay: If Cronin's Bearcats are to have a great year, Caupain needs to have a great year

'I think Troy is capable of it'
Fay: If Cronin's Bearcats are to have a great year, Caupain needs to have a great year
Posted at 10:19 AM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-14 12:14:24-05

CINCINNATI -- Coaches often dial back on talk that can stroke a player's ego.

Mick Cronin has taken the opposite approach with Troy Caupain. Cronin talks freely about the fact that he needs Caupain to be a star.

"My big thing with him is to try to continue to push him to be great," Cronin said. "Some guys you don't have to worry about that. They think they're great already. You may have to explain to them that they're not as great as they think they are.

"Troy is a guy I've always had to push to be aggressive and be a great player. That's always been my challenge with him."

This year, it's simple: For Cronin's University of Cincinnati basketball team to live up to expectations, Caupain is going to have to go from being very good to great.

"It's extremely important," Cronin said. "Guys have to have great years if you're going to talk about actually winning a conference. The last time we won a conference, we had two great players in Justin Jackson and Sean Kilpatrick. It's got to be postseason awards.

"I think Troy is capable of it."

Caupain, a 6-foot-4 senior from Midlothian, Virginia, says he's up for the challenge.

"There's no time after this," Caupain said. "This year decides my future. He expects a lot. I expect a lot. I come here every day and get ready to play."

Again, Cronin isn't shy about reminding Caupain of that.

 "He tells me: 'You've got to be a killer,' " Caupain said. "I have a killer mindset, but it's not every day. It's not all the time. I've got to bring that to every game."

The Bearcats (1-0) host Albany (1-0) at 7 p.m. Monday at Fifth Third Arena.

Caupain has been a good player since he arrived in Clifton. He's gotten steadily better over the years. He's gone from averaging 5.4 points as a freshman to averaging 9.6 points as a sophomore to averaging a team-high 13.0 last season. He's also increased his rebounding and assist average each year.

"I've taken a lot of steps," Caupain said. "I don't get down on myself for one mistake. I'm more aware of not turning the ball over, and putting my team in the best situation."

Caupain averaged 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds a game last season. That's gotten him some preseason notice. And he was named co-player of the year in the American Athletic Conference.

Star players tend to score more than Caupain does. But as the point guard, his role is not only to score but to get others involved as well.

"I might not be on one night, and it's my teammates' night," he said. "I've got to do the best job of making them the priority of the game. Get them open. I'm the vehicle for that. Do whatever I can for us to win the game."

The downside to Caupain's season as a junior was his shooting percentage, which dropped from .444 from the year before to .375, and his 3-point percentage went from .408 to .324.

"I think this year will be a lot different," Cronin said. "I think he has a lot more offensive help than he's had the last two years, to be honest about it. I think our team will be able to spread the floor, which will give him more room to operate."

UC starts three guards -- Caupain, Justin Jenifer and Kevin Johnson. The first player off the bench last year, Jacob Evans, is a guard. The Bearcats' top recruit, Jarron Cumberland, is a guard.

"Kevin and Jacob are much-improved," Cronin said. "I know Justin is. Jarron Cumberland can really play. I think Troy'll have help on the perimeter. I don't know about averaging more points, but I think shooting a higher percentage and being more consistent with his performance are things I expect from him."

The Bearcats started the season ranked 26th by AP and 25th in the USA Today coaches poll. They're picked to win the American Athletic Conference. And the Bearcats are seeking their seventh straight NCAA berth.

No player is more important to how the season turns out than Caupain.

"For us -- really for anybody -- to have a great year, you've got to have a couple guys have great years," Cronin said. "You can only coach so much."

Cronin's done that for three years with Caupain. Now it's time to see if it worked out great.

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.