The Cincinnati Bearcats look to have hit full stride this week after a huge road win over then No. 19 Iowa State and a blowout victory over Bowling Green. The 'Cats are 7-1 and have looked very good ever since their early loss to Rhode Island, who was ranked at the time. Although the season is still young, UC has looked every bit a Top 25 team as of late, and were able to crack into the AP Poll this week at No. 22.
Washington is the Key
Kyle Washington has made the biggest difference to the Bearcats this season. After multiple seasons of UC not being able to find centers who can excel on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, Washington has answered that call. He leads the Bearcats with 17.3 points per game on 59% shooting and also leads the way with nine rebounds per game. He has given UC a presence in the middle that it has been searching for for many years. Washington led the team in points and rebounds in an overtime win against the toughest opponent of the season so far, Iowa State. The 6'9" center has also been getting it done on the defensive side of the ball with a team leading 15 blocks and has simply been a large body on the inside that opponents try to stay away from. Washington has been the most efficient player on UC, alongside Jacob Evans, and could prove to be the player that pushes the Bearcats to the next level.
Troy Caupain was a preseason favorite to win conference player of the year and has not lived up to the hype. He has averaged 9.5 points per game this season which is a drop from his 12.9 points per game that he posted last year. He has also been getting to the free throw line less frequently, shooting worse from beyond the arc and has been turning the ball over on 16% of possessions. His early struggles are very surprising considering his statistical output has improved every year since coming to UC. Caupain's slow start is not something to get overly upset about, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Going for Two
Even though the Bearcats certainly had their struggles on offense against Iowa State, they have generally been a solid team in that regard this season. They are averaging 75.1 points per game and are ranked 36th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, scoring 110.2 points per 100 possessions. The key to that success has been UC’s continued insistence on shooting close to the basket. The Bearcats have made the 39th most two-point field goals in the country and are shooting 56.2 percent from inside the 3-point line.
However, there are some concerning things that come with that offensive game plan. UC is not shooting threes very well, hitting just 30.3 percent from distance, which is ranked 311th in the country. Sustained shooting difficulty from Caupain and Kevin Johnson, who are shooting 21.9 percent and 19.4 percent from 3-point range, respectively, while ranking second and third in triples attempted, has been a major deterrent. In addition, even though they are taking shots closer to the basket, UC isn’t getting to the free-throw line that often, averaging 18.3 foul shots per game and ranking 250th in the country in free throws attempted.
With Washington developing into the team’s go-to scoring option, a continued reliance on two-pointers will likely continue but without improving efficiency from the rest of the floor, it is unlikely UC can keep up the offensive pace.
As mentioned above, UC is now ranked No. 22 in the AP poll. The Bearcats also rank No. 20 overall according to KenPom, buoyed by their standing as the No. 10 team in adjusted defensive efficiency (90.7). As for the USA Today Coaches poll, UC jumped higher than any other team this week, climbing seven spots to No. 23. That coincided with this lovely image.
Highlight of the Week
Why limit yourself to one highlight when you can relive the entire upset of Iowa State right here.
UC’s next matchup will be a big one as it faces off against No. 16 Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse this Saturday. For UC, it will be another top 25 matchup on the road and a chance to prove that it deserves to stick around in the national rankings. I would look for Jacob Evans to really shine against Butler in order for the ‘Cats to come out victorious.