We find ourselves less than a week away from the Crosstown Shootout and the Cincinnati Bearcats have more momentum than they know what to do with. This past week, they added fuel to the fire, winning games against a reeling Temple team and an East Carolina squad playing shorthanded. Still, a 16-2 record is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s take a deeper dive before we head into the weekend.
Winning at all is difficult. Playing at home makes it easier, but never a sure thing. That is still the case for UC, but so far, the Bearcats have been impossible to take down at Fifth Third Arena. Temple did the best it could on Wednesday. The Owls held a 28-26 lead at halftime and were ahead by as many as six early in the second period, but UC heated up and pulled away for the win, its 11th victory in as many tries at the 53. Not to mention, it was also the third time this season the Bearcats have trailed at halftime. They are 3-0 in those contests.
Now, of course, that home record has been loaded with less than challenging contests as the bulk of the non-league schedule took place at Fifth Third. In fact, only games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off and visits to Iowa State and Butler made UC hit the road before conference play began. That means that its home record is padded with wins against teams like Brown, Fairleigh Dickinson and Lipscomb. However, the Bearcats are 3-0 in league play at home as well, including the claw-their-way-to-the-top effort against SMU and the rally against the Owls. The Crosstown Shootout is at Fifth Third this year and that will be a major benefit to the Bearcats.
In the last two games, UC has dominated on the boards. The Bearcats had a 47-36 edge in rebounds against ECU and followed that up with a 32-23 edge against Temple. Strong showings from Gary Clark, Troy Caupain and Kyle Washington helped lead the way for UC, which has been a middle of the road team in terms of rebounding this season. The Bearcats rank 137th in the country in total rebounds (699) and just fourth in the American Athletic Conference since league play began (232 rebounds). One of the reasons SMU nearly knocked them off a week ago was the fact that the Mustangs fought their way to a 37-27 advantage on the glass, powered by 11 rebounds apiece from Sterling Brown and Ben Moore. Caupain led the team with seven in that win, while Washington and Clark were less active than usual. Washington is still the team’s best rebounder, leading in total rebound percentage (16.5), while Tre Scott (15.4) has been a solid worker off the bench. Clark (13.9) and Caupain (10.6) also have marks above 10 percent.
It helped that both ECU and Temple do not have imposing frontcourts, but hopefully the dedication to the boards will continue.
Troy Caupain played one of the best games of his career against Temple. It was certainly his best showing of the season at the least. He tallied 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. A bit of fear trickled through UC early in the season when Caupain was struggling to rack up the numbers expected of a pre-season AAC Player of the Year winner, but the worries are being cleared away aggressively now. In his last four games, Caupain is averaged 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while putting together excellent shooting splits (.500/.571/.750). He is second on the team in scoring in conference play (11.5 PPG) behind Kyle Washington while only Kevin Johnson is making more three pointers per league contest (2.0 to 1.8). In total, the senior point guard is at the top of the UC mountain in terms of offensive rating during conference play (127.4) while ranking fifth in defensive rating (89.7). Continued play like that will make for a surge in his support for the actual AAC POTY award.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are a top 20 team whether you ask the AP or the Coaches poll. They rank ahead of Xavier in the AP, with the Musketeers at No. 22, but are still one spot behind them in the Coaches version. UC spent a single week in the top 20 a year ago and barring an upset against at Tulane on Saturday, they will surpass that total on Monday.
KenPom actually thinks just a bit lower of UC than the more traditional polls, ranking UC as the No. 21 team in the country. However, by that same metric, Xavier is No. 25.
Highlight of the Week
Alley-oops are fun. I vote for more alley-oops.
The Bearcats have what you might call a trap game on the road against Tulane tomorrow and then they have four days to prepare for the 2017 Crosstown Shootout against Xavier. Strap in, folks.