A lot has been made of the returning talent at Cincinnati during the offseason. However, to use a football term, without a quarterback, all that talent could dissolve into a pool of mediocrity and NIT invites. With Troy Caupain, the Bearcats have their signal caller and they are fortunate that he is one of the best in the business.
While most point guards in the country can call on gaudy assist numbers and blistering pace metrics, Caupain runs the show for one of the more mechanical offenses around. The Bearcats grind on both ends of the floor and on offense, whereas some teams play with the gas pedal glued to the floor, Cincinnati eases into the right lane with its safety lights on. It is a simple game plan, but the simplicity is in the sets run and the types of looks the Bearcats favor, not in how often the ball actually goes through the hoop. Cincinnati scored 62.8 points per game last season and assisted on only 394 field goals. It also ranked 104th in the country in adjusted offense (105.4) according to kenpom.com. In addition, the Bearcats ranked 340th in possessions per game with 62.1. That means every pass needs to be on point and every shot needs to be a good one.
Of course, that was not always the case, as Cincinnati had an assist to turnover ratio below one (0.912), ranking 228th in the league. To his credit, Caupain managed to outperform the rest of the squad in this regard despite playing with the ball in his hands more than most. He totaled 121 assists compared to 72 turnovers for a ratio of 1.68. That is not bad, but also not that great. It would be great to see him be a bit more careful with the ball and bump that ratio up towards two. There is every expectation that he will do that, especially if he can shade towards being a pass-first guy a bit more. He has shown a willingness to be that type of player, especially on the fast break, which he runs well.
That is not to say that Caupain should start avoiding shots. His ability to create is not limited to his passing acumen, as he can hit shots off the dribble and get to the rim. Plus his size (6-foot-4) makes him a tough mark for other guards. He ranked second on the team in scoring last season (9.6 ppg) and was extremely efficient en route to that number. He drained 40.8 percent of his shots from long distance and averaged nearly one triple per game, while shooting 44.4 percent overall. He was also easily the most effective shooter from the free-throw line (.788), which is a major weak points for the Bearcats. Aside from Caupain and Farad Cobb, no consistent contributor hit more than 70 percent from the foul line. Caupain is the de facto closer in tight games and a solid one at that.
In all, Caupain's polish on the offensive end cannot be questioned. He was one of three players on the team to post an offensive win share at two or above (Gary Clark and Ellis being the others). In addition, he ranked second among qualified players in offensive rating (112.6), falling behind Clark.
So, he can score, he can pass and he is comfortable with keeping the offense on the straight and narrow, but what about his capabilities on defense? Unlike some of the defensive enforcers that litter the roster, Caupain is not an overly effective defender. He struggles guarding opponents one-on-one and is sometimes slow on rotations. However, he improved in his ability to read passing lanes, snagging 1.2 steals per game last season, up from 0.9 the year before. He also managed to cobble together 2.1 defensive win shares despite some shortcomings as an individual defender. Oftentimes it is the players that lean on Caupain to get them good looks on offense that Caupain leans on to make up for his occasional defensive lapses. It is what you might call a symbiotic relationship.
That symbiosis runs through the whole team and without Caupain's offensive-first mentality, a rarity at Cincinnati, the Bearcats would not be nearly as complete a team.