On Friday night, the Bearcats played the game they wanted to play. The defense was tough and gritty, applying pressure on ball-handlers. The offense showed relative explosiveness, headlined by shooting 61% on the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts. Even aspects like transition offense and rebounding were solid, en route to a 97-72 victory in the 2015-16 college basketball season opener.
Now today, the Bearcats host the Robert Morris Colonials from the Northeast Conference, fresh off a close 76-75 loss to Penn in their season opener.
Meet the Colonials
Robert Morris is led by senior Rodney Pryor, who averaged 15.6 points per game last season for a team that finished 20-15 and lost to Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In the Colonials' game against Penn Friday night, Pryor racked up 28 points, going 12-of-19 or 63%. Sophomore Elijah Minnie scored 15 points for the Colonials and went 3-of-5 from three-point range. As a team, Robert Morris shot 46.7% from the field and 45% from deep. They struggled from the free throw line, shooting only 55.6% from the line against Penn.
This will be the first real test for Cincinnati, in terms of facing off with an explosive scorer. Pryor can score points in a variety of ways and can clearly score in bunches. It will be interesting to see how the Bearcats play him.
Cincinnati Offense Clicking Early
Cincinnati's offensive struggles have been much discussed over the Mick Cronin era, yet this year's team actually appears to have some firepower on the offensive end of the floor. Efficient shooting in the first two exhibition games carried over into the regular season opener with the team shooting 61% from the field, 42.9% from three-point range and 70.4% from the free throw line.
What is working for the Bearcats is a quick, high-tempo approach to offense. The defensive pressure still remains, with a Cincinnati team that has returned nearly the entire roster from last years team. The Bearcats are using that pressure and their success on the boards, albeit against smaller teams, to get out on the break in transition. Their transition offense has resulted in some easy buckets, but even the half court offense has been impressive. Quick passes have set up open shots and the Bearcats have been knocking down those shots. It will be interesting to see if that consistency can continue as the season picks up.
Meet the Stars
The Bearcats are very, very deep this season. Loaded with players who gave Kentucky a run for their money last spring, Cincinnati has really only added to the options and it will be interesting to see how many people get involved on a game-by-game basis. Coupled with another offseason for development, there are a number of players on this roster who can make an impact on any given day.
For example, Octavius Ellis already earned his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the season opener. Gary Clark actually led the Bearcats with 21 points and reeled in eight rebounds of his own. Troy Caupain remains a talented offensive player and Farad Cobb has already shown his chops from three-point range, going 3-of-3 on Friday.
Freshmen Jacob Evans III and Justin Jenifer each made their debuts for the Bearcats against the Catamounts and showed glimpses of why there is so much hype surrounding their addition to this team. Evans looks like a player who can and will contribute in a wide variety of ways, as he scored seven points, secured five rebounds, dished out three assists, had one steal and one block. Jenifer also had seven points, including two on a beautiful contested floating layup. Both players looked a little overwhelmed early, but looked good for freshmen in their first regular season games. We will see how they can build upon that first showing in a second game in front of the home fans. It will be fascinating to see how this team progresses throughout the season with the talented players they have.
Cincinnati is a deep team with a number of players capable of contributing in big ways. This game will be interesting to watch as Cincinnati looks to stay sharp offensively and test its defense against the Robert Morris offense, led by Pryor.