The phrases ‘one game at a time’ and ‘trap game’ have become cliches in sports circles for a reason — teams routinely lose games they’re favored to win when there is a bigger game looming. Athletes have proven repeatedly that they’re susceptible to overlooking the game in front of them and instead focusing on the marquee matchup down the road. I imagine a team full of 18 to 22 year-olds are even more susceptible. The Cincinnati Bearcats will hope to avoid that fate at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday night when they face a Bowling Green team they’ll be heavily favored to defeat, while a matchup with nationally ranked Butler awaits them a week away.
The Falcons come into the game winners of three straight, but one of those wins was over Murray State (ranked 334 out of 351 D1 schools by KenPom) and another over Notre Dame.
Nope, not that Notre Dame.
This Notre Dame is a DII team in Euclid, Ohio that moved from NAIA to DII just two years ago. However, it’s notable that Samford is ranked lower than Bowling Green and we all know the Bearcats had plenty of trouble with the Bulldogs last week. This game will be a rematch from last year’s game at Bowling Green where the Bearcats won 83-50 thanks to 20 points on six threes from Farad Cobb. The Bearcats held a slim 35-31 lead halftime before pulling away for the 33-point victory.
Get to Know the Opponent
Bowling Green starts three seniors, including leading scorer, Wes Alcegaire. Alcegaire (pronounced (Al-suh-gAIR) is a 6’6” forward that primarily played on the wings last year, but has moved to more of a post player this season. He leads the Falcons with an average of 12.6 points per game. Zack Denny is the team’s three-point specialist. He enters the game just nine made three-pointers shy of the 10th most all-time at Bowling Green. He’s also on pace to become just the 44th player in Bowling Green history to score 1,000 points in their career.
The Falcons rely heavily on their bench with 10 players averaging 14 minutes per contest. Matt Fox, Rasheed Worrell and Rodrick Caldwell receive the most minutes from the bench unit with Worrell having the biggest impact. The redshirt sophomore provides 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in just 18 minutes.
The Falcons enter the game ranked 23rd nationally in rebounds per game, which will undoubtedly be an area of emphasis for Mick Cronin and the Bearcats. Cincinnati did a great job of rebounding against Iowa State and will need to maintain that effort against Bowling Green to prevent any chance of an upset.
Where Did the Bearcats Bench Scoring Go?
Grab some popcorn, prop your feet up, sit back and enjoy. Here’s a look at every bench point the Bearcats scored against Iowa State on Thursday.
Yep, that’s it.
After putting up 39 points against Lipscomb in their previous game, Bearcat reserves responded with just two points against Iowa State and shot 1-of-6 from the field. Cincinnati has to get better production than that to be a truly elite team. Expect the Bearcats to go to their bench early and often on Sunday night. Troy Caupain and Jacob Evans both played 42 minutes against the Cyclones. That means Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer could see expanded roles, something the Bearcats desperately need as they prepare for a tough conference schedule beginning later this month. The freshman Cumberland scored a career-high 17 points against Lipscomb and is the obvious candidate for a big game off the bench against the Falcons.
Clark and Washington Coming Together
One of the biggest storylines of the early season has been the emergence of Kyle Washington. The junior transfer has been spectacular for the Bearcats, ranking 16th nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom. However, Washington’s emergence has meant a slightly reduced role for Clark. As as sophomore, Clark earned AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 10.4 points along with 8.8 rebounds per game. Bearcats fans have been surprised to see his production dip this year as he learns to play alongside such a dynamic scorer and rebounder.
Prior to the game against Samford, Mick Cronin said, “Gary is trying to figure out where he fits in, and where he can get his opportunities.” If the Iowa State game is any indication they may have finally figured it out. Washington and Clark routinely connected with each other on slick interior passes that broke down the Cyclones defense. Here’s a quick look at three of those passes.
As you can see, the two have become very comfortable with each other. This type of ball movement is a hallmark of successful teams. If Clark and Washington can continue to pass at this level it creates a whole new dimension for the Bearcats and opens up shots on the perimeter for Kevin Johnson, Evans and Caupain.
This a very talented and experienced Bearcats team, and I don’t think coach Cronin will allow them to look past Bowling Green. Fatigue could be a real concern since the starters all played extended minutes on Thursday, so I expect Cumberland, Nysier Brooks and Jennifer to all provide significant contributions. Look for Clark and Caupain to also have big games as the Bearcats win 74-52 and extend their winning streak to five games.