Thanks a lot, Roosevelt Jones.
I apologize for making you watch this again, but the only way to conquer your demons is to face them head on. This vine is a painful one to take in since the outcome on the screen represents the agony of Cincinnati's first loss of the season. It was not the ideal start to a month that promises to have more intense battles, but cleaning up after themselves on Sunday against Morgan State still has the Bearcats set up nicely through the first handful of weeks.
Why They Lost
Jones' last-second stunner was not the only reason that Cincinnati fell to Butler. The Bulldogs are a strong team, so the setback was no fluke occurrence against a hot-shooting underdog or anything of that nature. Still, the Bearcats could have won the game if not for a few things.
The major culprit that needs to be addressed is the team's turnover issues. The Bearcats are great at forcing them from the other team, but that doesn't mean much if they keep coughing it up themselves. Against Butler, Cincinnati's worst nightmares came to fruition as the Bulldog ball handlers kept control of the ball, while getting into passing lanes on the other end. In all, the Bearcats had 14 turnovers, while forcing a season-low of six. They were also outscored 16-5 in points off turnovers, a glaring item on the box score of a game that was decided by two points in the final seconds. As far as the entire season goes, the Bearcats have 105 turnovers, which is enough for an average of 11.7 per game. It hasn't been a big problem, but mistakes have to be mitigated against top notch teams like Butler.
Also hurting the cause was the difficulty the Bearcats had in covering Butler's 3-point sniper Kellen Dunham, who went off for 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including a 4-of-9 effort from 3-point range. When previewing the game, I believed that Cincinnati's defensive intensity would keep Dunham off balance. I may have missed the mark there as Troy Caupain, Farad Cobb, Justin Jenifer and Kevin Johnson all failed to slow Dunham down.
Aside from those two issues, Cincinnati had the edge, albeit slightly, in most areas. The Bearcats hit 50 percent from the field and held Butler to 42.2 percent shooting, although the 53.6 percent shooting they let up in the second half bit them in the end. You can read the full recap for more details, but what this essentially means is that Cincinnati is for real. It can hang with NCAA Tournament-caliber teams and will be a force to be reckoned with for everyone on the schedule.
After a quiet first few weeks in which he let guys like Farad Cobb and Troy Caupain hog the spotlight, Octavius Ellis finally started to play like the Player of the Year candidate we all know he can be. Ellis was the leading scorer against Butler and clearly realized that for his team to be put in a position to win, he would need to be the best player on the floor. He tallied 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, but foul trouble limited him to 27 minutes. He is a physical defender so foul trouble is always a possibility, but showing out against Butler illustrates just who the alpha dog on this team is.
Ellis is leading the team in scoring (11.0 PPG) overall this season and teaming that with 7.7 rebounds and 14 blocks, tied with Gary Clark for the team-lead. With an offensive rating of 116.4 and a defensive rating of 89.8, as well as impressive win share numbers (1.4 offensive and 1.3 defensive), Ellis has been a driving force in the hot start, even if the stats haven't always grabbed attention on the stat sheet.
After putting everything they had into the loss to Butler, the Bearcats coasted past Morgan State on Sunday, but Mick Cronin was not pleased with his team's effort. He has a bit of a point... It's tough to complain about an 18-point win, but Cincinnati was outscored in the second half (39-36), while chucking up a number of 3-point shots that were way off the mark.
"We played about eight, nine minutes. That was about it. They weren’t interested. So that was that. You’ve got to ask them. They’ll be here. They can answer for that," Cronin said on Sunday.
Much has been made of Cincinnati's rejuvenated offensive acumen this season, but Cronin's desire is to see more toughness and stifling play on defense.
"We have a bunch of wide receivers and quarterbacks. We need a nose tackle. I need someone to bust open a wedge, back in the day. We don’t have a wedge-buster. We don’t have Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles," Cronin said. "We have too many guys, their immediate answer, they’d be telling you about their jump shot and their offense. "
It may seem odd for Cronin to say such things about a team ranked in the top 10 nationally in points allowed (58.4 PPG) and blocked shots, not to mention the numerous guys with defensive ratings below 100, but if Cronin isn't happy with the defense, it's tough to question him.
Rankings and Bracketology Update
Any loss, even to a strong team like Butler, is going to lead to a dip in the polls. The drops were not cataclysmic but they were there nonetheless. The Bearcats are now ranked No. 22 in the USA Today Coaches poll, a mere one spot behind Butler coincidentally. They are in a similar neighborhood in the AP poll (No. 23).
In addition to the weekly rankings, ESPN's Joe Lunardi released his projected bracket this week and the Bearcats are right in the mix. They are currently a No. 6 seed matched up the winner of a play-in game between UNLV and VCU. If Lunardi's bracket holds, they would be in the same bracket as Kentucky, North Carolina and, in another coincidental turn of events, Butler. Here's hoping the Bearcats get another shot at the Bulldogs.
Highlight of the Week
Even if Cronin wasn't too pleased with Cincinnati's efforts against Morgan State, there's no question that Ellis put the hammer down. Look out below!
Quadri Moore Minutes Watch
I must be honest, I am not feeling very good about my preseason prediction at all. Moore did not see the floor at all against Butler, which tells me he will not be trusted in many big games. That is extremely troubling considering what remains in the non-conference schedule and the importance that every conference game has. Moore is now up to 77 minutes played this season since he got to shoot around for nine minutes against Morgan State. That puts him on pace for only 265.2 minutes this season, barring any postseason play. He played only 213 minutes in 26 games a year ago.
What's Next (As If You Didn't Know)
There is one solitary game on the schedule this week and it looms larger than every other thing in the world and perhaps the universe. The Bearcats will travel to the Cintas Center on Saturday for the Crosstown Shootout with that other team from the Queen City. Stay tuned for plenty of largely unbiased coverage the rest of the week.