It is not exactly the best time in the world to be a Cincinnati fan. The Bengals just puked away their first playoff win in decades, Todd Frazier will no longer be mashing home runs at Great American Ballpark and the Bearcats football program fell flat on it's faces. The basketball program seems to be following in stride. Sure, they are sporting a respectable 12-5 overall mark, but for a team that many (including your humble author) pegged as a favorite to not only win the American Athletic Conference but compete long into March, that isn't exactly a passing grade. Speaking of, with more than half the season in the books, now seems like a good time to give a progress report on everyone on the roster.
One of the most disappointing parts of this season has been the play of Ellis. To many, he was a surefire first-team All-Conference candidate and the best player on a deep and experienced roster. He has not exactly lived up to that billing, playing just 22.9 minutes per game and scoring at a 9.4 points per game clip. He is also grabbing just 6.7 rebounds per contest. All three of those numbers are lagging behind the stats he put up a year ago. He has been even worse in conference play, averaging meager 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest. Those are the numbers of a solid reserve option, not a top contributor.
Aside from the production, what has been particularly alarming is how invisible Ellis has been on so many nights. In Cincinnati's valiant upset bid against SMU last week, Ellis didn't score until the last minute of the second half. Sure, foul trouble kept him out, but even when he was in, he wasn't exactly making an impact.
If there is a silver lining, its that Ellis has remained a defensive dynamo. His defensive rating of 87.8 is still sensational, if he has been a bit worse against AAC foes (98.4).
At times, it looks like Caupain is out there willing this team forward by himself. He has seen a large uptick in his usage rate and as the only real creator on the squad, he has taken on more responsibility in a new, faster offense. Caupain has responded well for the most part, ranking second on the team in scoring (11.2 PPG), while handing out 4.5 assists per contest as well. Unfortunately, with so much pressure on his shoulders, Caupain has at times bitten off more than he can chew and his efficiency has suffered because of it. He is shooting just 38.3 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent from 3-point range. His true shooting percentage (.503) and effective field goal percentage (.461) are also down from last year.
Last year's freshman phenom has kept on trucking. His ability on the boards is second to none on the team and perhaps in the AAC. A walking double-double most nights, Clark is especially strong on the offensive glass, leading the ACC in that category (65). He is also third in overall rebounding percentage (17.1). Simply put, if a ball is coming off the rim, Clark is a great bet to scoop it up. Clark has also made strides offensively, showing a few new moves on the block and a softer touch. He is scoring 9.5 points per game, which is nearly two points more per contest than a year ago.
It hasn't all been good news, however. Clark has not been as offensively proficient against conference foes, scoring just eight points a night on 42.9 percent shooting.
The beneficiary of Cincinnati's altered offensive gameplan that puts more emphasis on 3-point shooting, Cobb has been putting on a Steph Curry-esque performance from beyond the arc this season. UC's leading scorer (12.1 PPG) is shooting just 37.3 percent from 2-point range, but once he steps outside the arc, he is a powder keg set to explode. He has drained 47.5 percent of his 3-point attempts and leads the AAC in triples (48).
Unfortunately, Cobb's struggles inside the arc mean once teams are hip to his game, he struggles to be a threat. He doesn't create for himself all that well or for his teammates. These are small complaints, however, as Cobb isn't supposed to be the be-all, end-all scoring threat. He is thriving in the role he was cast in.
With more playing time comes more responsibility and with it, more production. That's what Uncle Ben said, right? DeBerry is playing more than four minutes more per game than he did a year ago and the results have been positive. He has been a scorer when he needs to be (5.5 PPG) but his biggest contributions are on the glass and in the paint. Thoiugh his rebounding (3.9 RPG) and block (1.1 BPG) numbers aren't great by themselves, when you project them out further, they become stupendous (10.8 RPG, 2.7 BPG).
Like the rest of the Bearcats, conference play has not been as kind to DeBerry, who is scoring less (4.5 PPG), rebounding less (3.0 RPG) and blocking fewer shots (0.5 BPG) once familiar foes comes around. Such a drop in more meaningful games doesn't speak well for DeBerry's overall grade.
In the early going, Jenifer was getting a solid amount of playing time as Caupain's understudy. The playing time has been shriveling lately and that has led to less than consistent play for the freshman. At just 9.6 minutes per game, he has still managed to put up 3.6 points a contest, while nearly dropping two dimes each time on the floor. Those numbers project out nicely and some of the bursts Jenifer has shown have been impressive. Those are good signs for the future but not enough for a perfect score.
Jacob Evans III
Evans has not suffered from the same conference-play fatigue as many of his squad mates. He is scoring 7.4 points per game in league games and 7.3 overall. A player that we all knew would be offensive minded, he has brought a nice change of pace off the bench, and even to a few starts. Unfortunately, he is still trying to figure out how to consistently score and to do so efficiently. He is just a 35.9 percent shooter and his effective field goal percentage (.447) leaves something to be desired.
While offense is his true calling, he has bought in to the defensive philosophy, ranking 10th in the AAC in block percentage (4.5) and defensive rating (92.2). In short, it has been a nice start.
Everything that Cobb is doing right, Johnson is doing wrong. He has not shot well from 3-point range (31.3 percent) and with his defense slipping as well, his playing time has fallen off. Last year he played more than 20 minutes each time out, but he is barely holding on to a spot in the rotation now at 18 minutes per game. Last week, against SMU, when the team was dealing with foul trouble he got only 12 minutes. That's not a great sign.
You might think because Moore is not playing a ton that he has not learned from his mistakes of a year ago. However, when he's been in, which has been admittedly infrequently, he has played hard, if not well. He went as hard as anyone against SMU, standing in while Ellis and DeBerry were bogged down with foul trouble. At the very least, he deserves credit for playing hard, but his streaks of effectiveness have been too infrequent to earn him more playing time.
If it hasn't already, time is running out for Thomas to live up to his potential. He is scoring more than last season (7.5 PPG) and shooting a better percentage from the floor (49.4 percent) but for the Bearcats to live up to their potential, they needed Thomas to become more than just a decent scorer and rebounder and take on a starring role. Unfortunately, he has remained in the supporting cast.
The usual suspects make up the "pros" column for Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been exceptional on defense, slamming teams to the mat everytime they try to go on big offensive runs. Heck, even in a failed upset bid against SMU, the Bearcats still clamped down and held the Mustangs to 59 points. They are a top 20 team nationally in scoring defense (61.1 PPG), steals (145) and blocks (93).
Thanks to Cobb and Caupain mostly, the offense has taken on a new look and at times it has been a sight to behold. While not the same as some of the more prolific offenses in the nation, the Bearcats are putting up 74.9 points per game. A larger reliance on 3-point shooting has been a major cause but sometimes that reliance has been a detriment.
All the offensive success seems to be front-loaded, as the Bearcats have had a real problem closing out games. Close losses to Butler, Iowa State and, most recently, SMU were devastating because Cincinnati could have and should have won those games, but they just couldn't hang on when it mattered. Falling into old habits of putting up hero shots and playing one-on-one too much when the final minutes come around has largely negated much of the offensive steps forward.
Still, even at 12-5, the Bearcats are on track for an NCAA Tournament bid and they have certainly proved that they can hang with the nation's best. They just have to finish the job the rest of the way.