The last week and change hasn’t been great for Cincinnati Bearcats basketball. A rather one-sided loss to Xavier was followed up with a 66-60 letdown against then No. 5 Florida this past weekend. If you spend some time in Bearcats Twitter Land, you’ll find yourself traversing a swamp of doom and gloom.
Well, stop it.
Obviously its not good that UC lost those two games, but its far from a death knell on a season that is just nine games old. You only need to go back one year to see how that’s true. UC was also 7-2 on Dec. 11, 2016, with losses to Rhode Island and Butler on the docket. Yes, that record included a road win over a ranked Iowa State team, but the fact remains, the Bearcats were in the same spot record-wise a year ago. And then what happened? They went 30-6 and made the NCAA Tournament for the seventh year in a row.
Now, I’m not suggesting that there is nothing to be concerned with at all. Xavier mopped the floor with UC and it felt like the Bearcats were going uphill all game against the Gators. To ensure that doesn’t happen against future difficult opponents (hello, Wichita State), the Bearcats need to fix some thing for sure.
First, they have to hit shots, especially open ones. A six-point loss to Florida could have been a win of some quantity if the Bearcats didn’t go just 4-of-15 from three-point range and 10-of-16 at the free-throw line. Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland were the worst offenders, going 2-for-10 combined from long range. Evans is shooting 38.1 percent from distance this season, which is right in line with his career average (.380). There’s no way he’ll be held scoreless from three-point range in many, if any, more games this season. Cumberland, meanwhile, is actually shooting better from three-point range (.372) than he did last year (.355). He has to improve from inside the arc, where he is shooting just 45.5 percent, and at the line, where he is making just 58.3 percent. All of those seem like reasonably easy things to fix for two players who are best known for their shots.
The more troubling undercurrents of late are the weak play of Kyle Washington and an issue with ball security. Washington scored 11 points against Florida, but only played 23 minutes and secured all of four rebounds while turning the ball over four times. In the last two games, the 6’9” forward has averaged 5.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 turnovers while shooting 33.3 percent. If we look at Washington’s overall body of work as a Bearcat, we know that he is capable of much more. He just has to start reminding us. Again, that’s a task that is more inside the realm of possibility than outside.
On the turnover side, the Bearcats are used to forcing and not committing them. However, 21 giveaways against Florida really turned the tide. UC is currently 136th in the country in turnovers (124) and it only had eight against Xavier, but paired with poor shooting and disappointing work from Washington, any slip up becomes catastrophic. Mick Cronin’s teams have been stingy with the ball historically. You can bet that this problem will be addressed.
There in lies the rub. All of these issues are fixable. Add in the fact that Gary Clark is still playing at an exceptional level and Cane Broome put together a fine performance against the Gators and there you’ll be in a better head space. Plus, let’s not forget that the Bearcats were tied 60-60 with a chance to take the lead with 1:30 remaining before Clark missed the second of two free throws. If the Bearcats, and not the Gators, finish that one strong, then we are having an entirely different conversation right now. So don’t despair. It’s only December. Let’s wait until we’ve got a bit more information before we start counting down to baseball season.