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Cincinnati Basketball: Takeaways from Week Two

Jacob Evans is scorching, UC is racking up steals but 3-point offense is hampering the cause.

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Tip Off-Rhode Island at Cincinnati David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Small sample sizes are difficult to judge. Just two games cannot give a complete indication of what a team is made of. Doubling that sample size doesn’t make a major difference but it does make one, especially when four games featured opponents of varying difficulties rather than two teams from the low mid-majors.

Through four games, the Cincinnati Bearcats are 3-1. That is the most basic and obvious takeaway from the first two weeks of the season. A deeper dive reveals oh so much more about this team. It just remains to be seen what developments are just random flukes or things that can be expected going forward.

Efficient Evans

In the data-driven modern world, being a volume scorer is not always considered an absolute positive. Just reaching the 20-point plateau isn’t enough anymore, as getting to that altitude at an efficient rate is becoming increasingly important and for good reason. After all, wasting field goal attempts just to get to that magical number isn’t good for the win column. That’s why what Jacob Evans is doing for the Bearcats is so special. Evans is averaging a team-high 20.8 points per game and he has hit the 20 mark three times in four games. If he keeps this pace (I know, small sample size alert) he will become the first player since Sean Kilpatrick to average 20 points per game for UC.

However, unlike Kilpatrick, Evans is on pace to compile such production while being one of the most efficient scorers in the country. During his senior season, Kilpatrick hit 42.3 percent of his shots from the floor and had solid percentages in true shooting (.577) and effective shooting (.515). Evans is putting those numbers to shame. He has connected on 63.6 percent of his field goal tries, including 81.8 percent from 2-point distance and 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. Such a high volume of shooting success has led to otherworldly marks in true shooting percentage (.769) and effective field goal percentage (.750) while he currently leads the American Athletic Conference in offensive win shares (0.7).

While its impossible that Evans will keep up this pace for the entire schedule, its clear that he has hit another level when it comes to scoring, something that UC hasn’t seen since, well, possibly ever.

Stealing the Show

Getting pressure defensively has been a hallmark of Mick Cronin’s teams at UC and to nobody’s surprise, that has continued in 2016. Active hands on the perimeter and in the paint have helped UC record 37 steals in four games, ranking 32nd in the country. The Bearcats have had at least nine steals in three of four games this season and forced a total of 47 turnovers.

Senior point guard Troy Caupain has been the most lethal thief, snagging nine steals in four games. Evans (seven) and Gary Clark (seven) have also gotten in on the action. Justin Jenifer (five) has been sneaky as well, improving his defensive performance while earning more playing time.

Scoring Close, Struggling from Deep

Aside from Evans, UC has been a team that finds success scoring near the hoop but has been extremely ineffective from long range. The Bearcats are 34th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage (.586) led by the work of Evans, Tre Scott (.750), Gary Clark (.579) and Kyle Washington (.556). However, the team has made only 31.6 percent of shots from 3-point distance. Evans has made 10 of the 25 total triples for the Bearcats, who are a combined 15-of-57 from beyond the arc when Evans’ contributions are taken out. Luckily, the Bearcats have done a solid job defending the arc, as their opponents have produced at an almost identical 3-point rate (25-of-80).

Kevin Johnson’s problems with finding his shot have been a major detriment to the Bearcats’ 3-point offense. Although he only made 30.8 percent of his 3 -point tries last season, Johnson was pegged as the fill-in for Farad Cobb, who was a volume shooter from distance during his strong senior season. Johnson has not been able to replicate anything close to his normal production, let alone that of Cobb. The senior guard has made only 2-of-13 shots from 3-point land despite taking the third-most attempts on the roster. Hopefully this early-season slump will work itself out or Johnson could start seeing his playing time diminish.

Rankings Update

UC was unceremoniously dropped from the AP Top 25, although it remains right near the fringes. As for the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Bearcats fell from No. 25 last week and are now on the outside looking in. They received 20 votes for the poll and are ranked behind Baylor (60), California (38), Miami (37), Florida (26), Seton Hall (21) and Florida State (20).

Highlight of the Week

It may not be from the world of basketball, but anytime Batman is in play, you’ve got gold on your hands.

On Deck

This holiday week the Bearcats won’t be going anywhere, as they have home contests against Samford (Wednesday) and Lipscomb (Saturday).