Cincinnati lost last night. It may be a strange thing to say, but it was the best loss this team has had in a while. Traditionally, when Cincinnati looses, they look like a bunch of quasi-athletes with hardly a whisper of an understanding of how to put the ball in the basket. Last night, Cincinnati looked tough and like they belonged in the tournament. They past what many refer to as the eye test. I'm not the only one who thought last night was encouraging. Jim Calhoun, who announced last night's game, commented after the game that these were definitely two tournament teams in his eyes... I'll take it.
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To breakdown a game as meaningful as the Crosstown Shootout is tough. In Cincinnati, this is the most overanalyzed game of the year, with every meticulous detail being remembered for decades. People will remember the call to inbound to Gary Clark in isolation, the Troy Caupain free throws, the Shaq Thomas spin-slam, and most of all they will remember the performance of Dee Davis and that Xavier won.
If Cincinnati had won, we would be talking about how they forced 15 turnovers, while only coughing it up just 6 times themselves. We would talk about how the Bearcats came back from a 12-point halftime deficit to rally at home. I would go on-and-on about how Gary Clark is the best Freshman player I have seen for UC since I can remember. Unfortunately, Xavier won, so we are going to be talking about the biggest weaknesses of almost every Bearcat team as positives for Xavier- shooting and offense.
Xavier's offense is phenomenal. They moved the ball better than any team Cincinnati has seen all year. Cincinnati players always seem like they are just looking for who to pass to next. The Xavier players are looking for how to score. That is the big difference in my mind. In the second half, when the Cincinnati defense tightened up though, the Muskies offense finally went to sleep. Unfortunately for Bearcat fans, Dee Davis set his alarm clock to wake him up just in time to win the game.
Coming in to yesterday's game, Dee Davis had made 6 of his last 38 shots from three. That's 15.7%. He decided to come out of his slump last night, and went 5-5 on the night from three, one of which he cashed with 57-seconds left in the game... what a jerk.
The difference in the game was shooting. Part of that was Dee Davis of course, but it was bigger than that. Xavier shot 53% from the field and a ridiculous 59% from three, while Cincinnati shot 46% and just 25% from three. The end of the game when Davis hit a three and Cobb missed his served as a microcosm of the entire game. Specifically, Farad Cobb was 3-10 from three and Dee Davis was 5-5, that was the difference in the game - pure and simple.
Speaking of the end of the game - How about that finish. Forget? Here's a reminder. Game is tied 53-53 with 1:13 to go. Cincinnati is taking the ball out at half court, and decides to line up everyone besides Gary Clark at half court for the inbound. Clark, waiting on the offensive block, flashes to the elbow to catch the inbound and makes a quick move to the basket. He scores on the helplessly surprised defender, and even gets an and-one call. Unfortunately, he misses. Fortunately, Cincinnati was up 55-53.
Subsequent possession, Matt Stainbrook kicks it to Dee Davis, who drills a somewhat awkward three with 57-seconds to go on the clock. Xavier's now up 56-55. Cincinnati brings it up and Farad Cobb decides to end things. He misses, but Troy Caupain is fouled off an offensive rebound. He makes both, because he is the second best free throw shooter in the AAC. 57-56, edge to UC.
Xavier has the ball with <20-seconds to go. Recall, I started this breakdown just 53 seconds of game clock ago. Now, Gary Clark goes in for his staple interception-to-dunk sequence, but is called for a foul. Trevon Bluiett hits both free throws, Xavier is up 58-57 with 12-seconds to go. I thought for sure Larry Davis would go to Gary Clark. Clark had 14-points and had looked unstoppable in the second half. Instead, Cobb chucked up a three and Xavier won. Not that Cobb shooting a three was a particularly bad shot, but I know now living in the time period of 24-hours later that that scenario doesn't work, so I can say that Clark should have gotten the ball. You know. Hindsight's 20/20 and all that.
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Instead of dwelling on the negatives, I want to relish on the positives. First off, the Bearcats have been a second half team this year, which is refreshing. This year, Cincinnati has scored 718 points in the first half, and 857 points in the second half of play. That's a 139 point difference. That second half offensive surge coupled with Cincinnati's stingy defense, makes this a team that is never out of a game. A nice comfort for the in-game fan. Second, Troy Caupain and Gary Clark continue to emerge as two very very different kind of leaders, even though they are just a sophomore and freshman, respectively. That makes it really easy to drool over the future of this ball club.
Last night, Caupain had 9 points, 6 boards, 4 assists, and ZERO turnovers. Troy is the prototypical leader of this team. He is the voice and the energy button. Most coaches want their point guard to be the boss, because, like a Quarterback, point guards simply have the ball more often.
Clark, on the other hand, is a much more silent leader. He doesn't ask anything of his teammates. He's just a good kid that is very easy to root for and support. You can tell how positively the other players react when he is doing well. They enjoy rallying around him. He has been learning quickly and his ceiling is sky high. Mick Cronin pegged him a future All-American months ago, and Clark is making him look like a very smart man.
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The loss is not all positive for UC, because it was just that - A loss. Cincinnati fell to a 49 RPI and 57 BPI. In my estimate, they can loose one more regular season game against Tulsa or Memphis, but that would be pushing it. Nervous times to be a Bearcat fan. Next up is Houston Saturday night (9:30PM) on ESPNU. This is a must win. Period. A loss means Cincinnati may have to win the AAC tournament. Screw that.
-Daniele "Da" Bologna