If you follow Ken Pomeroy (if you don't, you should), then you are probably aware that he slowly counts down all the unbeaten teams in college basketball via the Twitter machine. Right now, there are 28 teams that have still yet to be stung by a loss. And right in the thick of that group of 28 is Cincinnati, which has a sparkling 7-0 mark after three weeks of play.
December is certainly going to be a challenging month for the Bearcats, but let's take a look back before we start anticipating the last month of 2015.
It isn't fair to be disappointed, however slightly, by a 7-0 team. However, three games in the 60-point range have me feeling a bit let down. During week three, Cincinnati looked much more like the team we've come to expect than the one that burned nets to the ground in the first four contests. What hurt the most was the game against Southeastern Louisiana. Far from a noted college basketball powerhouse, the Golden Lions kept Cincinnati to just 40.7 percent shooting, including an ice cold first half when the Bearcats made only 10-of-29 from the floor, including a 2-of-11 mark from long range. Farad Cobb, who had been on a magnificent tear, was bogged down and held to just two points in the game, during which SELA used the clock to its advantage, running at a slow tempo to keep Cincinnati off balance.
Things were cleaned up a bit after the half, when the team flirted with 50 percent shooting, leaving the door open for the Bearcats to continue their recent offensive dominance over the weekend.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Cincinnati fell below 40 percent shooting for the first time this season during the first game of the Barclays Classic against Nebraska. They also were less than stellar at the free-throw line (16-of-24), but getting to the line that many times helped the team not only capture a victory, but creep above the 60-point plateau. The title game against George Washington ended in another Cincinnati win, but it was another rough offensive showing. The Bearcats played from behind for much of the game because they just couldn't string together effective offensive possessions.
Not only did the shooting slow down, the ball movement that had been so beautiful in the first four games turned ugly. The Bearcats had 39 assists in last week's games after posting just over 20 a game in the first four. Even the best ball movement stalls when shots aren't falling, which was the main culprit for Cincinnati's regression, but seeing more one-on-one possessions was not pleasant.
So, which Cincinnati offense is the real one? Its tough to say. Troy Caupain is playing with confidence and Cobb is still showing no fear in taking shots from deep.Those are just two of the guys that can really heat up in terms of scoring. However, history tells us that Cincinnati may be closer to the team we saw last week than the one from earlier in the schedule.
Happy Birthday, Troy
On Sunday the world celebrated the birth of one Troy Caupain. The 6-foot-4 junior from Virginia had an excellent week leading up to his 20th birthday and earned American Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors for his efforts. That is a heck of a gift. For the week, Caupain scored at a strong clip (16.3 PPG), while doing all the dirty work in terms of ball handling. As SELA, Nebraska and George Washington tightened up on defense, Caupain found himself with the ball in his hands for long stretches and he was able to create for himself, as assist opportunities were not prevalent.
Caupain's scoring work was especially important because of the struggles of Cobb, who has gotten a great deal of the attention in the backcourt. Caupain deserves credit for improving his game from last year. He is scoring more (10.6 PPG), setting up teammates a bit more frequently (3.9 APG) and playing efficiently as all heck. He has a true shooting percentage of .588 and an effective field goal percentage of .548, which both dwarf his totals from a year ago. His PER (21.5) is also much better than last season, representing a 4.1-point improvement.
The time has come for Cincinnati to begin its toughest month of the campaign. That is until its inevitable run to the national championship, he said with a heavy dose of bias and wishful thinking. Over the next 30 days, Cincinnati will clash with the likes of Butler, Xavier, VCU and Iowa State. That is a brutal gauntlet of impressive squads.
First up is Butler, which poured in 144 points in its season opening win over The Citadel and sports six double-figure scorers, including Kellen Dunham (21.2 PPG).
A break to play Morgan State is the lead up to the Crosstown Shootout on Dec. 12. Xavier is 7-0 and entrenched in the national rankings (No. 12 AP, No. 18 Coaches). A Sweet 16 participant a year ago, the Musketeers have won the last two games against Cincinnati, including last season's 59-57 slugfest.
VCU is not the same powerhouse that it was under Shaka Smart, but it is still a dangerous squad. At 4-2, it may appear to be a middle of the road team, but its two losses came against No. 7 Duke and Wisconsin by a combined nine points. The Rams need to be handled with care, especially since this game is on the road.
In the last game before AAC play begins, Cincinnati faces yet another brutal test and perhaps its most difficult one. Iowa State will invade Fifth Third Arena on Dec. 22. The drop-off following Fred Hoiberg's departure for the NBA has been non-existent, with the Cyclones ranked No. 5 in the country after a 5-0 start. An athletic superhero team of Jameel McKay, Georges Niang, Abdel Nader, Naz Long and Monte Morris will be an incredibly difficult challenge for Octavius Ellis, Gary Clark, Caupain, Cobb and company.
Cincinnati has the ability to win all of these games, and if it does, you can expect the Bearcats to be flirting with the top five of most national rankings. But a more realistic expectation is for Cincy to collect at least two or three wins, which would be a major boost to the resume come Selection Sunday.
It took just one week of the regular season for Cincinnati to find its way into the national rankings. Week three's efforts, although less dominant on offense, were enough to jolt the Bearcats up seven spots to No. 17 in both the AP and Coaches polls. Don't bother telling Mick Cronin, as Cincy's boss has no time for such frivolities, a fair assessment for rankings made in December.
"I couldn’t care less," Cronin said. "If you want to know why, look every year at the top 25 and compare it to the NCAA seeding. Missouri, five years ago, was ranked every week and when the brackets came out, we were a six (seed) and they were an 11. It happens every year – it tells you how off they are and how little they mean. Now the top four are probably the top four, but the rest of it doesn’t matter."
Highlight of the Week
You are in luck, dear reader. This week we have a generous helping of highlights from Cincinnati's win over Nebraska. May I suggest the 38-second mark when Justin Jenifer's no-look pass leads to a Quadri Moore layup.
Quadri Moore Minutes Watch
Even in a week with three games, Moore didn't see the floor very often. Well I suppose he saw the floor, but mostly from the bench. A total of 18 minutes during the last week puts the 6-foot-8 forward at 68 minutes played this season. That drops him below 10 minutes per game and puts him on pace for just over 300 total minutes for the season, excluding any postseason play. Yikes. My 500-minute prediction is not looking great.
What Comes Next
Kind of spoiled this already. Cincinnati hosts Butler on Wednesday night and will remain at home to play Morgan State on Sunday.