The Cincinnati Bearcats improved to 13-1 with their 70-61 victory over 12-2 Pittsburgh on New Year's Eve. For a while there, Cincinnati was at the top of the Big East standings. They are now joined by Marquette. Since C comes before M, Cincinnati is still in first place in the Big East. Treasure that. We've seen a trend develop with the Bearcats. They have played one ugly half a game. It's already caught up to them with the New Mexico loss. It had a chance of catching up to them on Monday afternoon. Everything keeps circling back to one major problem. The offense.
I hate to keep kicking the same tires every post, but this offense has a lot of issues. We saw Mick change some things last season when things weren't working. It took losses and suspensions for things to change, but things changed. I think that some things need to change this season. The Cincinnati offense is being exposed because of one very big reason. They have 4 guys on offense who can get shots for other people. There is going to be a post tomorrow about where the baskets from the big men come from. It's no surprise that none of them can get their own shot. Outside of Wright, Kilpatrick, Parker and Rubles, who would you say creates offense? Shaq Thomas? I love Jermaine Sanders, but he doesn't Ge'Lawn Guyn hasn't. Do you know how many assists Guyn has this season? 9. I don't know about you guys, but the primary back up ball handler having 9 assists is very disappointing. We've seen when foul trouble or ineffectiveness of one of the big 3 happen that the offense stalls because one of them who isn't struggling takes on the entire scoring burden. On Monday that was JaQuon. I don't really know where Mick can look for scoring options off the bench. I think it's time that he shakes up the offense for the second unit though. Start running more sets. Get those guys running motion or something. They need to get each other looks. Teamwork.
Since I've made that statement before, let me talk about the defense. You guys, we have the makings of a great defense. They are elite according to the KenPom stats at #4. The only teams ahead of them are Louisville, who has been other worldly on defense this season, Syracuse and Texas. People can't score against these Bearcats. For some reason, teams are hitting 59% at the line against UC. Teams haven't attempted a lot of 3s against the Cats, Pitt tried only 10. Cincinnati doesn't let teams make 2 pointers. UC is holding teams to 35.5% from the field. If you look at the advanced stats, Cincinnati is 3rd in effective field goal % defense, that includes 3s. They are second in true shooting %, which includes free throws and 3s. The offense doesn't have to be pretty for this team to win basketball games. Hell, lately it hasn't been. With this defense though, Cincinnati is going to be in just about every game this season. This is a special group.
Before we get into the player blurbs, I was talking about the offense and one thing that stands out is passing. Cincinnati had 7 assists on Monday to 9 turnovers. Against New Mexico, they had 11 to 11. The last 2 games, UC has a negative assist/turnover ratio and isn't averaging double digit assists. I find this a bit troubling.
Justin Jackson is having a pretty disappointing season all things considered. He's playing less than last season. He's shooting 41% from the field, 10% of his total from last season. His rebounding has improved a lot. His assists are up, but so are his turnovers. He's turning the ball over more than he was last season. His shot blocking hasn't seemed to be as big as it was last year either. Jackson had pretty quiet game against Pitt outside of his steal and dunk. He had 4 points, 3 boards, 1 steal and 1 block. He was 1-3 shooting, and a surprising 2-2 at the foul line. I still want to see him at the 5 and Rubles at the 4. Just for the dunk potential.
Cheikh Mbodj had a pretty miserable game. He had 6 points, but needed 8 shots to get there. 3 of his rebounds were offensive rebounds, he scored once on them. All he needs to do is make bunnies and put backs. He doesn't do that very well. Also, he can't stay on the floor. He fouled out yet again. His 5th foul was an awful one to boot. Just not a great game.
One thing that was noticeable in the Pitt game is that the bigs are using their height and shot blocking to really try and mask the fact they aren't great defenders. Too often they get pushed too far down on the block. Too often they give up position. Sometimes they make up with it with their shot blocking. They give up too many easy baskets or they foul. The 4 guys who played the 4 and 5 all had at least 2 fouls.
Cashmere Wright absolutely took over in the second half. He scored 12 of his game high 18 points in the second 20. He only played 13 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, so he made up for lost time by taking over late. We've reached the point where every shot he takes in the last 3 minutes of a game I feel like is going in. He made 3 of them on Monday. My favorite was the step back where he had the ball on a string and the defender on skates. Cash also hit 6-7 from the foul line. That's the 3rd time this season he's attempted at least 7. I'd like to see more of that.
On the down side, Cash had 0 second half assists. He had 2 for the game. He also had 2 turnovers. You can't skate with that very long in this league.
Sean Kilpatrick had a very frustrating first half. He played just 9 minutes due to fouls. He got benched for not boxing out on a rebound. At least that was the talk on twitter. He came back in the second half in a massive way by scoring 12 points. He scored 7 of them at the free throw line. He blocked 2 shots. Kilpatrick was 9-11 at the foul line and 3-8 from the field. I think we are starting to see an evolution in his game for real. He's been pretty awful from 3 lately, 11-42 the last 5 games, so he needs to start getting his points in different ways. Getting to the line a lot is a good thing. It's something he didn't do against New Mexico. Kilpatrick ended up putting Steven Adams on the bench. Adams had 1 rebound the second half after 8 in the first. It was pretty big.
I don't know why Mick was so steadfast in putting Kilpatrick on the bench the entire first half. I can see it in a case like Rubles or even Cash, because those guys play very aggressively and end up with fouls called on them. Do you know how many games Kilpatrick has fouled out of in his UC career? 0. Do you know how many games he's had 3 fouls this season? 1. And it wasn't the Pitt game. The offense needed someone to give it a spark. I think you play one of your best players and hope he doesn't foul. Kilpatrick didn't have any the rest of the game. I believe you go case by case with that. In SK's case, I think he should have played.
JaQuon Parker almost had a flashback to last season at Pitt. In that game, he scored 16 first half points and 5 second half points in leading UC to a win. This season, he scored 8 first half points and 5 second half points in leading UC to a win. He also had 5 rebounds. Parker was 5-8 at the foul line. More importantly, he hit 3-4 in the second half. JaQuon carried the scoring in the first half and made key contributions in the second. Gotta love his game.
Hey, this free throw shooting looks a lot better when the guards are taking a majority of them, huh? UC was 9-16 at the line in the first half. You had Sanders and Thomas going 0-2 and Parker 2-4. Then in the second half, you had Rubles 3-3, Cash and Parker 3-4 and Kilpatrick 7-8. UC went 16-19. Shoot more free throws. Please!
Titus Rubles had a huge second half. He had 5, 4, 3 assists in the box score, but he was so much bigger than that in reality. His only basket of the game was an and 1 layup that put Cincinnati ahead. His 3 assists were not only a team high, but they all went to the big men. The last 2 helped UC push the lead back to 3 possessions. His impact on the Cats has been more than I imagined. Now if only he would stop fouling so much.
Shaquille Thomas had a freshman type performance. He made a wonderful play to score his only basket. He got a shot in the lane, missed, got the rebound and scored. Not even a minute later, he got a rebound, threw the ball back towards the UC basket and saw it stolen for a dunk. He didn't play in the second half.
Jermaine Sanders had a rough, rough game. He was 0-3 from the field. He was 0-2 from the foul line. That was the rough, rough part. That would be when he was in the game late. Pitt was shooting free throws down by 5. He didn't box out, Lamar Patterson got the rebound and scored. Then he turned the ball over immediately. That will not go in his highlight reel.
I can't tell you just how terrifying that sequence was. The game was looking like a sure lock, then all of a sudden Pitt is at the foul line to make it a 1 point game 10 seconds later. That's the thing about college basketball, you never know. These are kids and they make mistakes. Thanks to Trey Woodall for missing the free throw and not taking years off my life.
I talked about Ge'Lawn Guyn a little earlier. He didn't do much in this game. In the last 6 games, he's scored 2 points. He's 1-10 from the field in that time. He was also 1-10 from 3 in the month of December. Not a banner month for Ge'Lawn. We'll always have November.
Last but certainly not least is David Nyarsuk. The big man had 6 points and 3 rebounds. But what a 6 points and what 3 big rebounds. Nyarsuk got a rebound and a put back to make it a 7 point game. He scored a jumper, off glass, to make it a 9 point game. He pulled in a rebound that led to a Cash bucket to put the lead back to 7. Then in the biggest sequence in the game, with UC up 5, he took it over. He pulled in an offensive rebound. After a miss by SK, he tipped the rebound out so Rubles could take it in. He finished the possession with a dunk. UC had the ball for 1:32. Mostly because of Big Dave. Absolutely huge minutes. Pun not intended.
Opening 2012 with a win at Pittsburgh and closing 2012 with a win at Pittsburgh is pretty damn cool.
Photos via Go Bearcats.