Viktor Lakhin, Cincinnati Bearcats, Big 12 basketball

Coach Wes Miller looks to transition the Cincinnati Bearcats smoothly from the AAC to the Big 12.

As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.

A team in transition, Wes Miller plans to lead a new path forward for the Cincinnati Bearcats. This team is almost a full reload on last year’s roster. They lost four of their five starters. The team also had two bench players graduate and one transfer. Cincinnati has to be prepared for a conference that is a step up in college basketball in the Big 12. Coach Miller has brought in some tough players with grittiness. Losing Landers Nolley to a professional career, the Bearcats also lost their leader, David DeJulius. With all these minutes opening up, there are some players that seem like natural fits as replacements.

Simas Lukosius, the Butler transfer, looks like the replacement for Nolley or Jeremiah Davenport. He is one of the few players that will immediately be cemented into a role. The Bearcats will likely end up with DaVeon Thomas as a leader on the floor. His traits and chip of coming from a community college will benefit this team. Cincinnati could be going through a significant change to potentially starting two big players, with the lone returning starter in Viktor Lakhin and the talented Utah Valley transfer, Aziz Bandaogo.

Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Head coach:  Wes Miller (13th season, 3rd at Cincinnati)

2022-23 record: 23-13 (11-7)

2023 postseason finish: Lost to Utah Valley, 74-68, in NIT Quarterfinal

Notable departures: Landers Nolley (NBA), David DeJulius (Graduated), Mika Adams-Woods (Transferred to St. Bonaventure), Jeremiah Davenport (Transferred to Arkansas), Kalu Ezikpe (Graduated), Rob Phinisee (Graduated)

Notable nonconference games: at Xavier (Dec. 9), vs. Dayton (Dec. 16)

Projected Rotation

PG: DaVeon ‘DaDa’ Thomas (6-0, 180, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 19.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG (Kilgore College – NJCAA)

SG: CJ Frederick (6-3, 195, Rs.-Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 6.1 PPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 31.8 3P% (Kentucky)

SF: Simas Lukosius (6-6, 230, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 11.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 37.8 3P% (Butler)

PF: Viktor Lakhin (6-11, 228, Rs.-Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 12.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 61.7 FG%

C: Aziz Bandaogo (7-0, 230, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 11.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.9 BPG, 60.0 FG% (Utah Valley)

6: Jamille Reynolds (6-10, 280, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 10.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.1 BPG,  60.4 FG% (Temple)

7: Jizzle James (6-2, 180, Fr.)

247Sports Composite No. 61 rated recruit

8: Daniel Skillings (6-6, 205, So.)

2022-23 stats: 4.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.6 APG

9: Josh Reed (6-6, 220, So.)

2022-23 stats: 1.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.2 APG

10: Rayvon Griffith (6-5, 180, Fr.)

247Sports Composite No. 72 rated recruit

11: Landen Long (5-11, 175, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 10.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 38.8 3P% (Ohio Northern – DIII)

12: Sage Tolentino (7-1, 230, So.)

2022-23 stats: 2.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.0 APG

Cincinnati Bearcats MVP: DaVeon Thomas

With the loss of some key contributors, DaVeon Thomas has the opportunity to shine in the stat sheet. At Kilgore College, he was listed as a part of the All-Region and first-team All-Conference. He will have a significant role with him, likely filling in for a style of play similar to DeJulius and Adams-Woods. His ability to affect and control the game will be vital. With the talent and ability, Thomas will be the primary ball handler. He is set up to create shots for himself and others; the tempo and plays will be run through him, and he will need to be a student of the game. To find defensive weaknesses, Thomas will probe them and find the liability for his teammates.

His ability to pull up, drive, or kick will cause issues. With the potential of playing two bigs, Thomas could be lethal with easy drop-offs or pick-and-rolls for these bigs. While he isn’t a great 3-point shooter, it is in his repertoire. The talent surrounding Thomas will make it easy for him to force defenses onto their heels. He will need to learn this system and pick it up quickly. Thomas has to bring this team together and trust his teammates to make this work. At Kilgore, he shot 42.9% from the field and 32.8% from 3-point range.

Cincinnati Bearcats make-or-break player: Viktor Lakhin

Viktor Lakhin is the only returning starter for the Bearcats. He will be looked to as a leader and expected to teach his teammates the style of play and expectations put forth by Coach Miller. Lakhin will have to be flexible. He was able to do so much for this team and was an influential piece in the AAC last year. In the AAC, Lakhin was second in 2-point field goal percentage (.619), fourth in blocks per game (1.4), tied for fourth in blocks (46), seventh in rebounds per game (7.1), eighth in total rebounds (234), ninth in defensive rebounds (158), tenth in offensive rebounds (76). There were plenty of more in-depth stats where he shined, with the biggest probably his second-place finish behind only DeAndre Williams in Player Efficiency Rating. Lakhin does so much defensively for this team, leading to critical offensive moves.

If he can have some ability to float further away from the basket and be even more of an issue offensively, this team could be an issue. Lakhin will have to settle into his role. His leadership could push this team into a strong position if he can. The problem is that his confidence may be shaken by all the big players who joined the squad this offseason. This is not the team he is used to, and if he feels threatened, the team could quickly crumble, and would have to lean on someone less experienced in the system or D1 basketball.

Key analytic: Free throw rate

For an impressive team in most categories, the Cincinnati Bearcats struggled to get to the free-throw line. This is calculated by free throws attempted divided by total field goals attempted. With a free throw rate of 25.7, it seems the Bearcats did not battle through defenders or settle for shots. This team was only attempting free throws, one in every four shots. This could be from any number of things: the players created space and made shots, passed to an open shooter, or were highly efficient. If this team can become gritty and battle into tough shots, these numbers could get better and create more opportunities to score. The Cincinnati Bearcats sitting at 337th in free throw rate is something that can easily change for this team.

Cincinnati Bearcats 2023-24 projections

Projected conference finish: 11th in the Big 12

Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16

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