That game played out just about how I expected it to. USF is not as bad as their record would indicate, not by a long shot. But they are missing a couple of big pieces that would enable them to compete down the stretch in these Big East games, starting with a decent point guard. They have enough decent pieces to push teams, but not nearly enough enable them to get wins consistently in close games. All those kind and maybe slightly backhanded compliments aside, UC is just plain better than USF. Not more athletic, but deeper and certainly more composed.
There is a phrase that is used extensively in Soccer commentary which could have just as much use in the coverage of College Basketball but it isn't used because we as fans tend to be obsessed with the daring and the extraordinary rather than the nuanced and skillful. If you watch, or listen to any soccer commentator for a prolonged period of time they will inevitably talk about this or that player having a lot of composure on the ball. The basic gist of it is that Soccer is game of incalculable variability where there are 22 players on the pitch each of which can move in any of a thousand different directions from second to second, all of it in split seconds. Average players see all the chaos and movement and can't divine a way through it and are ultimately consumed by it. Because they can't handle that pressure they often make bad decisions and give up possession far to easily trying to force passes that just aren't there. Great players see all the same things the average ones do, but they can hold up the ball under pressure for an extra second or two before passing it on. That extra second or two might now seem like much, but in a game played as fast as soccer is that extra two seconds is the difference between giving up possession in a bad spot or slotting in a perfect through ball to a teammate who ideally tucks the ball neatly into the back of the net.
The same concept of having composure on the ball has nearly limitless applications in Basketball but isn't used, which is a shame because that concept has really come to define this UC team and the way they play on offense, well at least it has in my mind. The composure on the ball that almost all the Bearcats have come to display this year has been the difference in games. It was a big factor in the blowout of Xavier and it played a big role in beating USF last night.
UC has at least five guys who are really comfortable handling the ball for UC under pressure, that group consists of Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis and Sean Kilpatrick. Some are better at it than others, Cash is easily disrupted by heavy pressure and double teams, Kilpatrick can struggle against quicker and more athletic guards. But all of them can pilot the ship in a pinch. That is a huge luxury in the college game. You need to look no further than than South Florida last night.
The Bulls are a team that is utterly bereft of players that can work on the ball with any composure. Agustus Gilchrist is by far their best player, one of the most talented guys in the conference from a purely physical standpoint. But he isn't the kind of guy who can work on the ball to consistently set up good shots for himself or others. Last night the best move he had was when he drove right, spun back left into the lane and sunk a running hook. It was a great bit of skill, but at the same time watching it I thought i'll give you that. If Gilchrist can pull off five variations of that move that's fantastic, but I won't waste time trying to defend that. UC wasn't as aggressive pressing in the second half after being burned for layups several times in the first half after USF broke the press. In the second half UC just applied steady, consistent one on one pressure for the length of the court and waited for the turnovers to roll in, and boy did they ever.The biggest difference in last nights game was UC's ability to handle pressure better than USF which wilted under the scrutiny.