Cincinnati was lucky enough to enjoy a relaxing week off between its blowout of Tulane last weekend and its showdown with Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday. All that time gave us plenty of time to stew on some things, like how well Jarron Cumberland has played recently, but there is more to unbox.
I’m having trouble remembering a UC team that was as deep as this one. Perhaps its just recency bias, but the Bearcats run a rotation that features eight players heavily with two more who could get serious minutes if injuries or subpar performances rear their ugly head. The starting five is locked and loaded of course, with Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Kevin Johnson and Kyle Washington all fixtures. But there is a ton of help behind them. Justin Jenifer has been a solid backup point guard, passing well and eliminating the defensive lapses that plagued him as a freshman. I’ve said it before, but Tre Scott has been the team’s second-best post option in recent weeks and his diverse skill set has him poised to be a major factor throughout his freshman season and Bearcat career. Then there’s Cumberland’s scoring fire, which we covered earlier this week.
With those eight forming the bulk of the rotation, freshman Nysier Brooks has not seen the court as often, but he could be playing a similar role to Scott and has at times this season, while Quadri Moore is an experienced junior who has dealt with his fair share of issues, but can fill in if need be.
There is still a lot of season left to go and UC’s depth will play a large role in keeping everyone fresh and ready for a deep run in March.
Led by Farad Cobb, the 2015-16 Bearcats enjoyed a major boost in three-point shooting, finishing the season 110th in the nation in triples (252) and third in the American Athletic Conference during league play (129). Without Cobb, and with slow starts from Johnson and Caupain, the Bearcats have fallen further back in that regard. They are just 248th nationally in three-pointers (95) and shooting 34.2 percent from such distance.
However, during the first two league games (SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT), no team in the AAC is shooting better from three than UC, which has drained 42.9 percent of its tries from long range. Of course that number is highly inflated by the 13-of-24 performance the Bearcats put in against Tulane, a dismal defensive team that is prone to allowing triple bonanzas. Still, with Evans already an efficient threat from long range, and Cumberland and Johnson finding their touch, UC’s offense is gaining a new weapon that was not as reliable in the early season.
Its been mentioned before that Johnson was supposed to fill the role of three and D wing contributor for the Bearcats, largely stepping into the role Cobb filled a year ago. The early returns hinted that he may not fit that mold, as he scored a total of 10 points in the first four games, while shooting 15.4 percent from three-point range in the first 10.
However, the senior guard has really turned it on of late. He has scored in double figures in four of the last five games, including a 15-point effort against Tulane during which he sank 3-of-6 shots from beyond the arc. During the last four games he is averaging 12.5 points per game on 53.1 percent shooting, which has included 2.3 threes per game on 47.4 percent shooting from deep. His new found stroke has boosted his scoring average to a career-high pace of 8.1 points per game and his field goal percentage to a career-best as well (.416). In conference play (ANOTHER SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT) he is averaging 10 points per game on 46.2 percent shooting, which, you guessed it, have him on pace for a career-high.
With most of the conference schedule left (and the Crosstown Shootout) there is still time for Johnson to regress once again, but the recent indication is that that won’t happen.
On Monday, the Bearcats were rewarded for their wins against Temple and Tulane with a one-spot jump in the AP Top 25. It was more of a hop really, as they are now No. 22. They earned the same one-spot increase in the Coaches poll.
In the world of projecting brackets, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Cincinnati as a No. 6 seed in his latest bracketology. That would have UC playing No. 11 seed Northwestern in the South section of the bracket, according to Lunardi.
Cincinnati climbed much higher in KenPom’s ranking this week, rising to No. 17 overall on the back of the country’s No. 4 adjusted defensive efficiency (89.5).
Highlight of the Week
Although much has been made of Cumberland’s shooting and scoring, he can still handle the ball and hit the open man from time to time and from time to time that leads to a massive dunk.
UC is about to play its toughest two-game stretch of the conference schedule, as it visits Houston tomorrow and plays SMU this Thursday. The two teams are 25-6 combined overall and both sport a 3-0 mark in league play entering this weekend.