Playing preseason exhibition games is a tried and true tradition in college basketball. It allows a team to play against a squad of (usually) lesser esteem in order to work out kinks and actually begin executing the strategy that has been crafted during the offseason.
Last year, the Cincinnati Bearcats played a pair of exhibition contests and rolled to victories of 93-63 against Grand Valley State and 81-60 against Bellarmine.
On Wednesday, Bellarmine came calling once again and even as UC appears ready to be a major player on the national stage, the Division II squad gave the Bearcats more of a test than you might expect. They actually trailed in the first half before ending the frame on a 19-7 run to claim a 29-20 edge at the break. They then led by as many as 14 points in the final 20 minutes, but they didn’t run and hide from there, with the Knights managing to slice the Bearcats lead to as little as three points.
In all it was a win, but exhibition wins don’t count for anything, especially when you have to trudge through it. Here’s what we learned from the experience.
The defense is still great
No matter who is playing in a UC jersey, they’re going to play defense and do it well. The Bearcats held Bellarmine to 36 percent shooting, while blocking eight shots, collecting 10 steals and forcing 19 turnovers. Gary Clark, last year’s American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, controlled the interior by swatting four shots and grabbing two steals.
However, one area of concern is 3-point defense, which was also a problem last season. Even with Kevin Johnson, a solid perimeter defender, the Bearcats allowed Bellarmine to hit 12-of-28 shots from beyond the arc. Based on this one game (SAMPLE SIZE ALERT) it appears scoring on the Bearcats will still be difficult, especially inside, but there is some success to be found from distance.
Mick Cronin is still giving the green light from long range
Last year marked a shift in offensive strategy and success for the Bearcats, who averaged 73.3 points per game and attempted 725 3-pointers. In comparison, they netted 62.1 a night and launched 507 triples the previous season. Farad Cobb, who is now gone, was the most frequent sniper last year (6.1 3PA), but Troy Caupain (5.2), Jacob Evans (4.1) and Kevin Johnson (4.1) each let it fly plenty.
Although the Bearcats had a lot of trouble finding their rhythm from 3-point range last night, 24 of their 45 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. Its too bad they only made six.
The anticipated ascension of sophomore Jacob Evans did not begin in this contest, as he was sidelined with a foot injury. Its unclear how serious this ailment will be, with Cronin saying he’s day-to-day, but getting him back in the fold is paramount to UC’s success this year.
Mixed bag from the new guys
Tre Scott, Jarron Cumberland and Kyle Washington, who are all newcomers in one way or another, all got time on the court in this one, but with varying results.
Cumberland scored nine points and collected three rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. He also showed no fear in shooting from anywhere, going 1-for-5 from 3-point range and 3-for-7 overall. It appears his offensive game still needs some evolution from the high school ranks.
Scott only played 15 minutes and had two points and a rebound, but he made an impact defensively, which was great to see, as he had a block and a steal.
Cumberland and Scott’s contributions were much more positive than Washington’s. The former NC State forward didn’t do all that much in his 14 minutes despite starting, missing all three of his field goal attempts and finishing with only a pair of rebounds.
Pronouncing Cumberland and Washington duds because of some issues in their first actual game playing with a new group of teammates would be folly, but its worth noting that the notion that they could be plugged in and be amazing immediately may have been overblown.
Quadri Moore IS ALIVE!
Moore didn’t round into a rotation player as a sophomore, but maybe he will this year. He certainly did a lot in the exhibition to earn some playing time. He led the team with eight rebounds and also scored 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while sinking all four of his shots from the free-throw line. Moore might have been given more minutes because this was an exhibition, but only eight players got time on the floor and aside from players like Caupain, Clark and Johnson, who are guaranteed big minutes, nobody on the team did more to earn himself more opportunity that Moore, aside from maybe Justin Jenifer (12 points, three assists).
Cronin and his team will now have a little more than a week to digest last night’s work and figure out what needs to be ironed out in order to make the 2016-17 season a success. We’ll see what sort of improvements can be made when the Bearcats begin the regular season on Nov. 11 against Brown.