Well that was a refreshing change of pace. As much fun as it can be to watch UC put hapless foe after hapless foe to the blade, it can become repetitive and frankly boring, to go through it for weeks on end. So it was nice to see how this team played down the stretch in a game that wasn't a blowout. Today UC left the state of Ohio for the first time, faced their first Big Six team and in the grand scheme of things the Bearcats acquitted themselves very nicely. Granted going to Oklahoma City to play what is in all likelihood a lower tier Big 12 team, in a half empty arena that seemed to have more Oklahoma State than Oklahoma fans in attendance is far from the sternest imaginable tests for this team. But this game in its scheduling and conception comes at the point where the competition level will start to rise pretty dramatically. This game is, for all intents and purposes, the launch pad to the second part of the season.
I am sure that Bill Koch and his lot with have naught to say except to continue to bitch about the lower quality of schedule compared to last year where UC went to Maui and faced three Tournament teams in as many days. But Bill and people of his ilk completely miss the point. Which is, in my mind at least, that given the sample size of 10 games it is possible to kind of piece together a picture of what this team is and what it is not. This much I know for certain this team is going to play defense above all. It is jam packed with guys who are willing to stick their metaphorical face in a fan to defend people. Even Yancy Gates, a man heretofore not known for consistent effort, on either end of the floor, gets after people on defense now. They press, they pressure, they play the passing lanes and have crisp defensive rotations. In the last five games only Utah Valley and Wright State have shot the ball reasonably well. The effort on defense that has become their collective calling card is sure to travel where ever this team may go.
Which is a great thing, because UC is not a great offensive team, not on a day to day level, hell they weren't even good possession to possession tonight. To this point the greatest strength of this team on offense has been the ball movement. The sets still generally suck, but the one thing that has happened to date this year is that UC simply and methodically wears teams down. They space the floor and usually have five willing and able passers, Darrnell Wilks willingness to pass kindasorta wanders from game to game. But whoever is on the court they usually make teams defend for 35 seconds, which very few teams can do consistently. That is the biggest difference between last year and this year, the pace is roughly the same and the shot attempts are roughly the same, but last years team never tested a teams defense. Opposing teams had to defend for maybe 10 or 15 seconds at the most during a possession when Vaughn or Lance would isolate on the wing or the top of the key with the clock winding down. It is suddenly very rare for UC to have one of those possessions this season. To date that has been a blessing, everyone gets involved, everyone has a part, and the offense grinds defenses into submission to the point where someone is going to have a decent look on every possession. The dark side of that is that UC has no consistent scorer. No one who they can throw the ball to after the initial set breaks down and say, he go get us a bucket.
You know when you go down to the local gym of your choice to get a run in. Everyone chooses up sides and one team has five players that are just dead even. when everyone is within a notch or two of everyone else. Watching those teams try to play offense can be brutal because there isn't that guy who just makes things happen to follow. That's what UC is like on offense, passing the ball around until someone on the defense screws up or they find a power forward isolated on Dion Dixon. Couple that strategy, if you could call it that, with the fact that UC is stacked with streaky scorers and you get interesting results. If UC has a night where it can get multiple scorers off the results can be breathtaking, like Toledo and Georgia Southern games. If UC has a night where no one really gets it going you get nights like tonight. UC controlled the game from the outset, they were more aggressive and demonstrably better. But the offense sputtered and they were never really able to put together the prolonged run they needed to have the final score be an accurate indication of the difference between the two teams. But, like I said before, it is good to know that the defense is going to be there to grind out wins on nights where UC wasn't really flowing on offense.
leave your comments on this game and this performance below. And as always follow me on twitter.