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Cincinnati Basketball Takeaways from Week 11

Attacked the paint. Beat the X. What more could you want? Maybe some better free throw shooting.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve grown tired of being reminded that Cincinnati Bearcats won the Crosstown Shootout then you’ve come to the wrong place. The No. 19 Bearcats are roaring their way through the streets of Clifton on the back of an 11-game winning streak which is highlighted by Thursday’s 86-78 triumph against the Xavier Musketeers.

Of course, as much as the Shootout captured our collective imaginations this past week, UC played another game last Saturday and there is more to sports (and life) than just wins and losses. Let’s dive into some of that.

Paint the Town Red and Black

One of, if not the, major reason UC was able to take Xavier down was how well it performed close to the basket. I mean that in more ways that one. First, the Bearcats simply won the rebounding battle against the Musketeers (42-33). Powered by a double-double from Gary Clark (13 points, 11 rebounds), they were able to control the glass, something not many teams have been able to do against Xavier, which ranked 15th in the country in rebounding margin before Thursday.

Many of those rebounds were of the offensive variety, providing many opportunities for the Bearcats to turn an errant shot into an easy bucket. In fact, with a hard-to-believe 30-4 advantage in second-chance points, UC all but broke Xavier’s will. Trying to make a stop, getting a missed bucket, only to have your opponent grab the carom and make a shot is disheartening. Having that happen enough times to equal 30 points is positively back-breaking. Glad the Bearcats could provide that to their cross-town rivals.

Finally, the Bearcats dedicated much of the game to getting points near the hoop while making sure Xavier did not have such a benefit by blocking nine shots. That led to a 34-12 scoring edge on points in the paint. Trevon Bluiett’s big shooting night from three-point range meant the X didn’t need as many points down low, but a few more would have helped.

How much of this is sustainable? Well probably all of it to a degree. Against Tulane last Saturday, UC had a 31-25 advantage in rebounds. The Bearcats also rank first in the American Athletic Conference in rebounds allowed since league play began (238) and are 31st in the country in two-point field goal percentage (.481). On the flip side, the Bearcats do rank just 120th in rebounds this season, but with opponents failing to secure boards frequently as well, UC has usually ended up on the right side of the battle, which explains why it is third in the AAC in rebounding margin and among the top 50 teams in the nation.

Something Foul

We’ve discussed this before but UC’s continued love affair with missing free throws is becoming too much of an issue to touch on once and forget about. The Bearcats won against Xavier despite a ghastly night at the line. They made only 48.6 percent of their attempts (18-of-27), actually making fewer free throws than Xavier despite taking 14 more foul shots. Against Tulane, UC made only 6-of-11 at the line.

As a team, UC is shooting just 64.7 percent from the free throw line this season, which is outside the top 300. The worst offenders have been Gary Clark and Troy Caupain. Sure, Kyle Washington and freshmen like Jarron Cumberland, Nysier Brooks and Tre Scott have been worse, but considering past performances, its odd to see both players struggle.

Caupain’s struggles have been particularly odd. His free-throw percentages for his first three seasons were solid and nearly identical (.784, .788 and .788). However, this season he is making only 66.1 percent. That hurts when you are taking the second-most attempts on the team.

Clark’s decrease in free throw efficiency has been less drastic, as he has never been a lights out foul shooter. But still, a player who hit 68.7 percent from the line a year ago should not be hovering below the 60 percent mark.

Future Returns

When this season is over, the Bearcats will have to say goodbye to Caupain and Kevin Johnson. The following year will be the last for Clark and Kyle Washington. Those will be tough shoes to fill, but this week has shown that UC will be just fine.

Jacob Evans, Jarron Cumberland and Nysier Brooks all played key minutes and critical roles in the Crosstown Shootout win. Cumberland was especially important down the stretch, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Evans finished the game with 21 points and was the go-to scoring option. Brooks had four rebounds and two blocks off the bench in 12 minutes. Those three, plus Tre Scott and Justin Jenifer, who have shown flashes of star power as well, give UC an excellent core for the next few seasons, and that’s before you even remember transfer Cane Broome and some of the recruits who have already committed.

Rankings Update

Whether you want to look at the AP or Coaches poll, you’ll find Cincinnati in the same place: No. 19.

KenPom, which is updated daily, has the Bearcats a bit higher, bumping them to No. 17 after Thursday’s win.

Prior to Thursday’s game, ESPN’s Joe Lunadri released his most recent bracketology in which he has UC as a No. 5 seed.

Highlight of the Week

After this layup from Cumberland, UC never trailed again on Thursday.

Up Next

On Sunday afternoon the Bearcats will host the USF Bulls, who are winless in conference play. Then they will travel to face Tulsa on Wednesday evening.