For the second time in about 3 weeks, Cincinnati beat an opponent 68-58. This time it was Big East foe Rutgers that the Bearcats dismantled. This Cincinnati team is not the same one as the one that played Wright State though. The Bearcats have seemed to embrace the slow down nature that they have been forced to play lately. Cincinnati is averaging 61 possessions a game in Big East play. That's the third slowest in the league. That's nearly Notre Dame levels of slow. Rutgers doesn't play an up and down game, but Cincinnati was the one controlling the pace on Saturday night. They wanted it to be a slow, half court game and it was.
That works out on one end of the floor for the Bearcats because our boys can guard. It wasn't as clear in the second half when they gave up 43 points, but it was crystal clear in the first half when they gave up 15. I don't know if this slow style was a one time thing or if it's something that's going to continue. DePaul is the fastest team in the BE at 79 possessions a game. If Cincinnati doesn't try to get in an up and down game with them, we know there is a shift in philosophy.
I'm not entirely sure that the slow down is a great idea. UC has seen it work at Pittsburgh and at Rutgers. It didn't work against St John's and Notre Dame. Look at the box scores from those 4 games. The thing that sticks out are free throws. UC didn't get to the line in the home games. They lived at the line in the road games. A large reason for the Bearcats offensive efficiency being at 124 is that they took 25 second half free throws. They attempted 22 free throws TOTAL in the ND and St John's games. Take it 2 steps back. They attempted 4 free throws in the loss to New Mexico, 21 in the win over Wright State. Even after going 72% at the line on Saturday, the team is only at 66% in the 4 Big East games. That's not great. The difference is simple though. When Cincinnati is able to get extra shots, the offense is better. When they are kept off the foul line, they are rather average.
Look at the first half and the second half. Cincinnati shot 7 free throws in the first half and shot 29%. In the second half, they shot 50% with the 25 attempts. Sure, the officials called it tight. Sure, Rutgers ended up in the bonus early. Sure, the Knights fouled late in the game. The difference between the road games and the home games shouldn't be like this. I don't know exactly why it is. Rutgers and Pittsburgh are the 2 most foul happy teams in the Big East. A lot of that is because they put Cincinnati at the line a whole bunch. A lot of that is because of how aggressive they played. Either way, it worked out well for Cincinnati.
I hate to keep harping on going to the foul line. The last 4 games have really proved the point that this team has to. They can't score consistently in the half court. They have been rather poor from beyond the arc lately. In Big East play, Cincinnati has made 29%. Considering the people who are getting fouled, going to the line is the best thing for Cincinnati's offense. DePaul and Marquette are at the high end of opponent's free throw rate. Something to watch for this week.
Let's get on with the player talk and other stray observations.
Titus Rubles had a big game Saturday night. He pulled in a career high 11 rebounds. He was right at his scoring average with 7 points. He blocked a shot and had a steal. The blocked shot was kind of incredible. Not only was it a difficult shot to block, but Rubles went down right on his hip. He bounced off the floor a second later. Maybe his hips are made of rubber.
The only thing I'm going to get on Rubles about is his 3 point shooting. I don't take as great offense to him taking 3s as everyone else does. That doesn't mean that I'm a fan of him shooting 3s. I'm not crazy or stupid. I talk about percentages more than most. I know 12% is bad. I'm not scolding him for shot selection. I'm scolding him for how bad he misses half of his 3s. It's not like he's having them rim off. When he misses, they go out of bounds. They hit the side of the backboard, they barely graze iron, they hit people in the front row. His 3 pointer Saturday was an airball by about 2 feet.
Cheikh Mbodj spent a lot of the game on the bench because of foul trouble. When he was on the floor, he might as well have been on the bench. 2 points, 0-2 from the field, 3 rebounds.
Cashmere Wright had both a quiet 20 point day and a loud 20 point day. It was loud in the sense that he took 17 field goal attempts to get his 23 points. That is a whole lot. It was quiet because he made 6 of those. He was 2-8 from 3. It was quiet because he made 9 free throws and free throws add up slowly. It was loud because he had 17 points in the second half. He was 8-8 at the foul line. It was a game where it was possible for Cash to have 23 points, his 4th 20 point game of the season, but at the same time it seemed impossible because he missed a lot. They say keep shooting and they will eventually go in. That is what happened with Cash.
This point may have not made a lot of sense, but it did in my head when I was writing it.
Sean Kilpatrick. I love Sean Kilpatrick. He seems nice on twitter. He loves the fans. The ladies seem to love him. He is a good leader. He's one of those guys who is going to leave a mark when he's no longer in a Cincinnati uniform. Some guys fade away, other guys leave a mark. The reason that a lot of late 90s, early 2000 player are still fan favorites is because they were good players on teams that meant something. This team means something. Sean Kilpatrick fits right in with Hicks and Maxiell and James White and Tony Bobbitt and Field Williams and so on and so on. That was a lot of ands. He's a special player.
I say the nice things about Killa because this was the worst game he's played in over a year. He didn't have a game this poor in 2012. The last time he was as big a non-factor was the Xavier game in 2011. Yes, I am trying to make it seem like a long time ago instead of last December. In both games he was 3-12 with 1 rebound. He had 11 points in that game, 10 in this one. 1-7 from 3. Even more surprising, he was 3-6 at the foul line. I'm not going to pretend that I know what's going on in Sean Kilpatrick's head, but this looked like a game where the missing shots affected the rest of his game. He hadn't had less than 3 rebounds since the season opener. It can't be easy going through a slump, ND game excluded. This was the first time it really looked like it was getting to him.
The good news is that after the X game last year, Kilpatrick got hot like a parked car. I hope that it happens just like that this year.
SK played great defense. I'm not taking credit away from that.
The defense on Eli Carter was tremendous. He was 1-11 with the 1 being a garbage time bucket. The Bearcats limited Myles Mack to just 22 minutes because of foul trouble. That was good because Mack was going off in the second half.
JaQuon Parker had one of those great JaQuon Parker games. He had 11 points on 4-7 shooting and 8 rebounds. 4 of those were offensive. Parker made all 3 of his 2 point shots. He was 1-4 from 3. Parker doesn't shot a ton of 3s, but his 3 point shot is starting to wane a little bit. His percentage is coming back towards 40%. He's 3-11 the last 4 games. That's following 2 games where he was 6-10. Still, 9-21 is something like 42%, so you take it.
I'm a bit surprised to see Parker has only had 8 rebounds one other time this season. He did it in the Campbell game. Parker's rebound of the missed free throw and subsequent put back caused a fist pump. Love offensive rebounding, Parker.
Speaking of offensive rebounding, UC had 17 for the game. 2 were team rebounds. The Bearcats translated that into 19 points. This absolutely sucked all of the air out of the Scarlet Knights. In a game with a relatively close margin, those points are huge.
UC gave up too many 3 point looks in the second half. If you don't give up looks, you don't give up baskets. Rutgers had 6 attempts the first 20 minutes, 11 the second. It's not a surprise that RU made 5 to keep the game within arm's reach.
It seemed like Cincinnati's defense forced a lot more than 9 turnovers.
On the flip side, UC only turned it over 6. All of those game in the second half, but still, 6 turnovers.
Only 6 assists though. I don't know how you have a game with single digit turnovers and mange to not have a positive assist turnover ratio.
Shaq Thomas played 1 segment. I had to admit, I was surprised he didn't see more of the floor. Hopefully this was just a matchup thing with Rutgers and he won't have his minutes yo yo'ed the rest of the season.
Justin Jackson returned from the dog house and went straight to the penthouse with his best overall performance since before Christmas. He had 6 points and more importantly, 8 rebounds to go with 2 blocks. Jackson was 2-4 from the field and 2-4 from the foul line. The field goal was his first of 2013. This was the Justin Jackson that I wanted to see. He played with purpose. He was a huge boost off the bench. So much so that Mick played Jackson and Rubles together for a little bit. If the benching against ND was a teaching point, let's hope Jackson took the lesson to heart. We need him.
Jackson is a 50% foul shooter. He made his first two. When he went to the line later, the announcers said he was 50% and pretty much called his misses. Those announcers should be positive and send the good vibes out. Maybe he makes them both. Maybe it's the start of Justin Jackson being a good free throw shooter. There is too much negative energy in this world. Get over yourselves, Big East Network announcers.
Ge'Lawn Guyn had 1 assist. Good work. David Nyarsuk had 2 rebounds. He also missed a layup.
Jermaine Sanders is a solid performance away from me being way too excited about his future. He had 9 points on 3-5 shooting, 2 offensive rebounds and a blocked shot. Sanders has the best looking jumper on the team. I think all of his 3s are going in. He has put together a couple of big performances. Someone off the bench has to score. With Rubles in the starting lineup, you need guys to take the pressure off SK or Parker or Cash, whoever is in the game when guys sub out. Sanders has done just that lately. It's like all the pieces are coming together. By putting Rubles in the starting lineup, he forced Sanders (and the rest of the bench crew) to sink or swim. Sanders has swum.
2-2 in the Big East with an important week on tap. This week is a little more special because it involves Cincinnati playing familiar foes from conferences past. It's a big chance to move to 4-2 before the Syracuse game. I can't wait to see what's going to unfold.
Photos via Cincinnati.com