You read that right, but I will get to that at the end of this article after a game review.
Friday night's road game was a strange one for me. First off, it was just that - a road game, but everyone (e.g. ESPN, RPI) is calling it a neutral location. Cincinnati came out in what looked like a true 2-3 zone without the constant switching that we are used to (though they started switching more after a couple of minutes). Also, all five Cincinnati starters played at least 31-minutes, and Coreantae DeBerry (7-minutes) and Jermaine Sanders (9-minutes) hardly saw the floor.
The positives were there. Cincinnati out rebounded UCONN 37-27 and shot the ball much better than the Huskies (45% vs. 38%). UCONN was also consistently forced by the Cincinnati-D into taking circus shots, but unfortunately for us, they were making some of them. Specifically, UCONN had three buzzer beater threes go in in just one game (two shot clock buzzer beaters and the Boatright game winner)... but I promised myself this wouldn't be a complaint article.
Individually, Cincinnati had a lot to be proud of. Troy Caupain led the way in scoring with 12-points, accompanied by 4 boards, 2 assists, and a steal to complete a nice little stat-line. However, the player of the game for me was Gary Clark. Clark was just shy of a double-double with 9-points and 11-boards. Rounding out what I refer to as the "Steady Three", Octavius Ellis had 11-points and 7-rebounds. For the third time in four games, Ellis didn't log a single block even though he averages 2.1 per game on the season. I don't know if he is trying to avoid foul trouble or what, but something to keep your eye on come tournament time.
Though I refer to Caupain, Clark, and Ellis as the "Steady Three", the "Wildcards" (Thomas, Cobb, Sanders, and KJ) didn't have their best night as a whole. Thomas had the best performance of the foursome with 11-points and 7-rebounds. Many of those stats were paired in single movements, as most of Shaq's points were off timely put backs. Hopefully we see a lot more of that over the next few weeks. Perhaps best of all, the sometimes out of control freakish athlete that is Shaquille Thomas can become turnover prone - and last night he only had one. I'll take it.
But Shaq was the sole positive of the "Wildcards". Cobb had a relatively off night shooting just 2-8, which hopefully means he will score 25 the first game of the tournament. Kevin Johnson was just 1-4 making the only three he took, but also posting a pair of unnecessary turnovers. Jermaine Sanders didn't really have a chance to get it going, as he picked up two quick fouls when he first entered the game.
*Note: That's a Freshman and Sophomore being interviewed for the Bearcats.
So, if we lost Friday night, why am I happy about the result? Of course I would rather have won the AAC tournament, but I can give you three BIG reasons why you shouldn't be completely down today.
- Sweet Sixteen Prospect. Most analysts had the Bearcats as an 8 or 9 seed before the UCONN loss, which is a terrible place to be. As an 8/9 seed, if you win the first game you have to go on to play a 1-seed (e.g. Kentucky). Loosing last night may have moved the Bearcats back to a 10- or 11-seed, meaning they would play a winnable 7- or 6-seed for their first game. If they win the first game, they go on to play a much more winnable 2- or 3-seed team (compared to a 1-seed). You may say, "but they would be more likely to win the first game". My response to that is, who cares? Do you see a lot of "Field of 32" shirts? Do you hear old players brag about making it to the
second, I mean third round? No and No. There is a clear line between teams that make it to the Sweet Sixteen and the other 52 teams. I don't know why. That's just where society has placed the divide. Loosing last night may have decreased the Bearcats chances of winning that first game, but may have unintentionally greatly increased their chances to win two games and make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Finding Closers. Last night the Bearcats found themselves down 52-47 with just 44 seconds to go. This is the scenario that every announcer and basketball expert says will doom Cincinnati. Who is the go-to-guy? What will the Bearcats do late in games without SK? Last night, Troy Caupain showed me the answer and that he could close a game if needed. He hit a big three, and fearlessly took it to the basket on two different occasions late.Yes, Cincinnati lost - and yes, Troy didn't score on either drive, but you saw the potential. If we need to close out a game slow, we have Clark and Ellis, if we need to score quick, we have Caupain and Cobb.
- Respect in the AAC. I don't think it is debatable that SMU and Cincinnati are locks for the tournament. With numerous bubble teams loosing over the last few days, Tulsa, Temple, and UCONN all have a chance to make the tournament. UCONN is the farthest back and has to win the AAC tournament to make THE tournament. Truth-be-told, I am now a UCONN fan for the rest of the AAC tournament. I think Tulsa and Temple can sneak in regardless of how they do, so that leaves UCONN. With five teams in the tournament, the AAC has a chance to make some real noise again. You know, like how they have won the NCAA tournament the last two years. Yes, the Big 12 sounds nice, but we are in the AAC for now. The more teams the conference puts in the field every year, the better the conference will look on the national scene.