The Cincinnati Bearcats only played one game since our last meeting so there’s a little less fat on the bone this week. That doesn’t change that fact that there are a few things that warrant unboxing from UC’s utter domination of Fairleigh Dickinson. Here are some tidbits to chew on as we reach the apex of the holiday season.
Kevin Johnson is Alive
Let’s forget the fact that Fairleigh Dickinson is one of the worst defensive teams in the country (347th out of 351 D1 schools in adjusted defensive efficiency) and bask in the glow of Johnson’s first great game of the season. After going three-straight games without a three-pointer and shooting just 15.4 percent from distance in the first 10 games, Johnson finally found his stroke. He drilled 4-of-6 triples in the win over the Knights and finished with a career-high 18 points. His shooting splits are still not fun to look at (.392/.222/.769) but they’re headed up after Saturday’s showing. Let’s hope the early season blues have finally left Johnson for good.
Cumberland’s Stock is Rising
Freshman Jarron Cumberland is averaging 15.2 minutes per game. That puts him behind only Justin Jenifer among non-starters, meaning he has become the seventh man off the bench. That role is increasing of late, as he has played 20 minutes in back-to-back games after doing so only once in the first nine games of the year. Here’s a grain of salt to take with this information because Cumberland did this in games UC won by 38 and 51 points, respectively. Still, Cumberland has scored 29 points across the last two games, nailing 11-of-17 field goal attempts, including an impressive 7-of-10 effort from three-point land. Cumberland is a guy that can shoot and his offensive contributions will be needed for a UC bench that has talent but is still finding its rhythm. These last two games show that he can do that.
Keeping it Moving
No one will ever mistake the Bearcats for a team built on efficient ball movement and distribution on offense. UC is still the defensively tough team that scores when it needs to but falls into isolation traps too often. However, last season, the Bearcats did show a bit more ability to assist on field goals rather than dribble, dribble, dribble some more and then shoot. They ranked 63rd in the country in assists, which is not great but was a marked improvement from previous years. In the prior three seasons they failed to break into the top 100. They were ranked No. 57 in the category in 2011-12 but that was when Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick were running the backcourt show. Since then, the offense has been more stagnant. That was until last year.
The dime revival has continued this season, with UC ranked 68th in assists (181). That number was inflated a ton by the win over FDU, as the Bearcats assisted on 29 of their 44 field goals. Even so, Troy Caupain is averaging a solid 4.3 assists per game and Justin Jenifer has been the best pure passer on the team, leading the team in assist percentage. Those are the guys you expect such contributions from, but Tre Scott (15.6), Cumberland (15.4) and Gary Clark (14.5) have all shown an ability to find the open man, with each having a respectable assist percentage. Even the 2011-12 team didn’t have five players with an assist percentage above 14, in fact, they only had one.
There wasn’t much movement here. UC inched forward in the AP Top 25, moving to No. 24. That glacial pace was Fast and the Furious speedy compared to how UC moved in the USA Today Coaches poll, as the Bearcats stayed at No. 23.
UC made a larger jump in KenPom’s rankings, moving ahead of No. 19 Xavier and taking the No. 18 spot. The Bearcats are 35th in adjusted offensive efficiency (112.6) and sixth in adjusted defense (91.9).
Lastly, this past Thursday, Joe Lunardi released his most up-to-date bracketology and projects UC as a No. 5 seed. Not too shabby.
Highlight of the Week
Remember when I was talking about those assists UC’s been putting up. This is one of the AND1 mixtape persuasion.
On Thursday the Bearcats will square off with a 7-4 Marshall team at Fifth Third Arena. That will be the last non-conference game until the Crosstown Shootout on Jan. 26 and the lead-in to the American Athletic Conference opener against Temple next Wednesday.