After a split week, the Cincinnati Bearcats are still nationally ranked and sporting an 8-2 record. It is a very similar spot in comparison to where they stood exactly one year ago. In fact, on Dec. 14 of 2015 UC was 8-2, ranked No. 23 in the country and had just recently lost a tough game against a ranked non-conference opponent, although not just any one (Xavier).
With 10 games past, the small sample size argument is beginning to fade and we can start to make some more definitive statements about this team. With that said, here are some things that stuck out this past week and may continue to as American Athletic Conference play approaches.
In Cincinnati’s 10-point loss to Butler, UC committed 20 fouls, giving Butler 26 free-throw opportunities. If you’d like to see them all, our man J. Scott Sewell documented the carnage.
Although some of the fouling was due to the Bearcats attempt to stage a comeback, there were still far too many whistles that went against the red and black. It was a negative sign for UC, which has generally been good at keeping opponents from getting to the line, allowing the 36th fewest free throw attempts in the country (140). Ideally the performance against Butler will not become a trend, but its worth monitoring.
What has been a trend all season and is not something that can just be put on the back burner is UC’s own struggles at the charity stripe. As a team the Bearcats are shooting 65.9 percent from the line, ranked 267th in the country. Jacob Evans is making the most of his attempts (81.8 percent), but Troy Caupain (68.4), Kyle Washington (62.5) and Gary Clark (57.7) have all been inconsistent at best. Washington’s troubles have been the most difficult to swallow as he is second on the team behind Evans in free throws attempted (3.2 per game). In the loss to Butler, UC left six points off the board by making just 7-of-13 free-throw tries. When you have a chance to get points for free, you simply have to capitalize more frequently.
Caupain Asserts Himself
Even if Caupain has been part of the problem when it comes to foul shooting, the senior point guard has begun to look like the player that was named AAC Player of the Year in the preseason. Caupain scored a season-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the loss to Butler (although he made just 2-of-5 shots at the foul line). He followed that with only eight points against Texas Southern, but he added four rebounds and as many assists in 24 minutes during the rout. The Caupain that is taking control, looking for his own shot and getting teammates involved is the one that can lead UC deep into March. However, he’ll need to improve on his foul shooting and three-point game (9-of-39 on the season) to really break through.
Washington’s First Stumble
Superman himself has his kryptonite and Washington may have finally been fed his own. After ripping through the first eight games of the season, scoring in double figures in each contest and posting four double-doubles, Washington looked more like Henry Cavill than the son of Krypton the last two times out. Foul trouble kept him from finding much success against Butler, as he managed only seven points and zero rebounds in 19 minutes. He made only 2-of-8 shots from the floor in the loss before fouling out. He then did not start against Texas Southern.
However, he seemed to be back to normal after the benching, producing eight points and nine rebounds across 18 minutes. Its assumed that he will play more extended minutes and get his starting job back going forward, but the Butler game showed that Washington is not completely unstoppable, just mostly.
Rejoice all ye who enter here for the Bearcats are still ranked whether you ask the Associated Press or the USA Today Coaches poll. The coaches are a bit more bullish about UC, ranking it No. 23 in the country while the AP dropped it from No. 21 to No. 25 following the loss at Butler.
On the KenPom side of the world, the Bearcats are ranked No. 21 overall, just a step behind No. 20 Xavier. They rank 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency (111.4) and 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency (91.6). Interestingly enough, the analytics think UC could be doing even better since KenPom gives the the Bearcats a luck rating of -0.47, which is outside the top 250 nationally.
Highlight of the Week
Even if Washington didn’t have the best week of his career, he still knows how to throw down.
Fairleigh Dickinson will come to Fifth Third Arena on Saturday in the second part of a three-game homestand which wraps up next Thursday against Marshall.