It's probably the last day I can write about the Cincinnati loss to Syracuse, so I'm going to take full advantage of that. Apologizes for getting to this so late. I know you all were waiting around with the most baited of breath. If anyone actually was doing that, I love you and you can come live with me. Hey, you support me, I support you.
Right after the game, I did not share the same opinion as most when it came to Cincinnati losing. A majority on my twitter feed seemed to be happy with the Bearcats losing a hard fought game to the Orange. I'm fine with that to a point. The way Cincinnati lost was excruciating and the loss is also a bad one to take. With Louisville losing the next day to Providence, Cincinnati could be in a tie for 3rd. Instead, they are part of the 3 loss jumble. Instead of keeping Syracuse in shouting distance, the Bearcats are 3 games behind them in the standings. Marquette is a full 2 games ahead of them with the tiebreaker. Going even further, this is a game that can affect Cincinnati's seed in the NCAA tournament. A win over Syracuse greatly improves the profile. A loss to Syracuse does nothing for it. The RPI drops, the profile drops. When things like Iowa State losing to horrible Texas Tech happen, it puts a bad spin on the week. I think losing this game to Syracuse could end up being a seed line drop. The difference between an 8-9 game and a 7-10 game. The difference between playing Florida round 2 and playing Arizona. I may be looking too deep into this one, but it's one that could leave a mark. A large missed opportunity.
Syracuse is a very good team. There is no denying that. They made big plays down the stretch to win the game. Cincinnati blew this one though. Losing a 6 point lead in the last 3:46 is blowing a game. Look at UC's possessions down the stretch.
Justin Jackson travels.
Cheikh Mbodj hits 1 of 2 free throws.
Cashmere Wright turnover.
Mbodj can't grab the rebound Fair tipped in.
Bad shot by Cash.
No real shot at the end.
That's 1 point. Syracuse scored 9 points during that same stretch on a dunk, a jumper, an open 3 pointer and a put back. Bad offense and bad defense. The worst part is that Syracuse had 2 guys you have to stop late and Cincinnati stopped neither one of them. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche made all the plays except the put back. The Cats let that one slip through their fingers.
Which is a shame because the first 15 minutes of the second half were some of the best basketball the team has played this season. Everything had a purpose. The defense was aggressive and tenacious. The offense was crisp and effective. The ball was moving. Guys were getting good shots. Syracuse was clearly flustered at points. The Orange had trouble getting things done against Cincinnati's defense up to the point where they didn't. We know this team can play with a very high level of effort. It's important that we see it continue for longer stretches. Would love to see that fire against Rutgers right from the tip.
Let's get on to the player talk and other stray observations.
Titus Rubles is developing into a very well rounded player who can give you everything. Need offensive rebounds? He gets 4 in the first half. Need a big man to pass the ball? He gets a team high 5 assists, 3 in the second half. Need someone to make a basket? He had 5 points. Rubles' line was 5-6-5 against 1 turnover. That's pretty damn solid. He's starting to get a lion's share of the minutes at the 4 spot. For good reason, he can totally change the complexion of this team by March if he keeps progressing. No exaggeration. If he blossoms into a guy who can do what he did against Syracuse every night, you have 4 ball handlers. You have 4 guys who can create shots for each other. You have 4 offensive options. Look how much better the offense was in the second half. Rubles was distributing. He might be the best passer on the team. Can not speak highly enough of him.
Whatever Mick and the rest of the coaches said to Cheikh Mbodj at halftime was the absolute right thing to say to him. He had 9 and 5 the second half. He hadn't scored 9 points since the Marshall game. He hadn't pulled in more than 3 rebounds since St John's. He did that all in a half. It was his best half as a Bearcat, hands down. When this team is getting something from the middle, it's a completely different squad. It's one that shoots 20.7% in the first half and 46.2% in the second. Let's be honest. If UC doesn't get anything out of Mbodj later in the second, it's going to be a short trip. We know what you are capable of, big man. Let's keep it going. You can do it.
Although on this play, turn around and shoot the ball.
Cashmere Wright was clearly struggling with things on Monday. He was 2-13, 1-8 from 3. He was forcing shots. He was trying to be the hero Gotham needed and deserved instead of being the one it deserves but doesn't need right now. It was his first game back, it was a big game, I'm willing to write it off.
That said, his shot selection was absurd. I know he has range. He was throwing up NBA bombs and bombs from deeper than that. You are in college. Use the shorter line. It's worth the same amount and it's an easier shot.
I'm not willing to write off the fact he had no assists. In 2 of the last 2 games he's had 2 and 0 assists. That's not good enough from your point guard. I don't care what the offense is. Cashmere Wright has one of the highest assist totals in UC history. He's too good to have 0 assists. He's fallen off the pace to catch Deonta Vaughn by a lot. He's going to have to turn into Kendall Marshall from last year to get first all time.
Sean Kilpatrick shot a lot of 3 pointers. 15 of them to be exact. He was 3-5 in the second half, all from 3. He had a game high 21 points. He also had 5 rebounds and 2 assists. SK took a lot of shots for sure. But none of them came in the last 2 minutes. He took 2 shots the last 6:37. He sat out about a minute, so let's just say he took 2 shots the last 5 minutes and none the last 2 minutes. You have to get the ball to your play makers. He's the best scorer on the team. He's got to take a shot. I know Cash is the closer, but Sean Kilpatrick just carried the team with 36 points and had 21 of 55. He can win games too. I don't understand what went down there. Another lack of execution.
JaQuon Parker reversed his trend of having a good first half and a quiet second half by having a quiet first half and a great second half. He had all 11 of his points in the second half on 4-6 shooting. He was 3-4 from 3. The only 3 he missed was the shot at the end from half court. Parker went for 11-6 rebounds, 4 offensive, and 4 assists. It would be interesting to see a half split on JaQuon's numbers this season. Very interesting in fact.
Shaq Thomas played 3 minutes. He's not going to get any more minutes. He's not going to be the breakout guy that it looked like he could be. I think he could have a game or two where he makes plays, but it looks like with the rotation tightening, he's not going to get a chance.
Justin Jackson rebounded very well in his limited time. He had 5 boards in 14 minutes. He had 4 points. He scored field goals in back to back games for the first time since the Maryland Eastern-Shore and Marshall games. His role looks like bench energy guy. A disappointing role for someone who is a junior, but a role JJ can fill.
Solid Mick Cronin picture.
Might have to start busting this one when things are going well.
Jermaine Sanders was 0-2 from 3 and had 3 rebounds in his 2 segments. If Sean Kilpatrick is not coming off the floor, Sanders, and Thomas to an extent, are not going to play much.
Ge'Lawn Guyn was back to his ways with Cash back.
David Nyarsuk did nothing. In fact, Mick went with Jackson and Rubles in the front court instead of Big Dave.
Really hard to win with 4 points and 9 boards off the bench.
There is no phrase that I hate more than moral victory. Moral victories are losses. If you got a number for a Victoria's Secret model, but it was a fake number, would you say it was a moral victory because you got her number? Or would you say it was a loss? It's a loss. Winning is winning. Losing is losing. If you claim to be an elite level team, like Cincinnati would be, then you can't be satisfied with almost winning. Prairie View taking Duke down to the buzzer, that's a moral victory. Cincinnati losing at Syracuse is just a loss. The record is 16-4, not 16-3-0-1 moral victory.
Michael Carter-Williams is damn good. He has times where he doesn't look that great. Like the first half where he had 2 points, 5 assists and 3 turnovers. In the second, he was an All-American with 14 points on 5-7 shooting, 2-3 from 3 and 2-2 at the foul line. He had 2 more assists and 0 turnovers in the second half. He's 6-7 as a point guard and a horrible matchup for the Bearcat guards. If we see them again, MCW could have a huge game.
Brandon Triche and CJ Fair are great second and third bananas. I love Fair's game. He played all 40 and had 13-6. Triche had 13, but 3 big second half assists. With this back court, the Orange are primed to be very good all year.
Man, this long stretch without games really sucks.
Photos via Cincinnati.com