It has been a while since the Cincinnati Bearcats (7-2) have won a basketball game. In fact, it has been more than two weeks, with their last victory coming on Nov. 27 against Alabama State. Since then, in case you’ve been ignoring the internet entirely, they have lost to Xavier and Florida, two quality opponents that would have made for nice NCAA Tournament resume highlights. Instead, they have UC giving itself a good, long look in the mirror.
Tonight, the Bearcats have a very good chance at securing their eighth win of the year and ending their losing streak, as they host the Mississippi State Bulldogs at BB&T Arena.
Who are the Mississippi State Bulldogs?
Why does UC have a good chance tonight? Because Mississippi State isn’t exactly a basketball powerhouse. The Bulldogs are ranked 67th in the country by KenPom, primarily dragged down by sorry scoring work, as they rank 120th in adjusted offense.
Now, here is where a MSU fan might say, “Hold on. The Bulldogs are 8-0. This isn’t going to be an easy game.” I will concede that. I cannot argue with stone cold facts. However, what I’ll mention MSU is not as impressive an undefeated team as Villanova or Arizona State, who have both played at least somewhat challenging games, whereas MSU’s best win on the schedule (ranked 346th in difficulty by KenPom) is against Dayton. Yes, 4-5 Dayton.
The Bulldogs’ most recent win came against a school called North Georgia. They shot the lights out in the 95-62 rout, sinking an even 50 percent from the floor (37-of-74) and 13-of-30 from three-point range. The strong three-point shooting made for a change of pace for a team that is ranked 279th in the country in distance shooting (.321), but the overall efficiency was actually in line with their usual work. Even though KenPom’s metrics don’t believe in them, the Bulldogs are sixth in the country in two-point field goal percentage (.608).
Junior Aric Holman’s blistering shooting to the season has a lot to do with MSU’s strong start as a team. The 6’10” forward has put up splits of .689/.611/.682 and that includes pretty regular work from beyond the arc, as he is shooting 2.3 threes per game. Holman had 13 points in as many minutes, making all five shots he took from the floor, against North Georgia.
Holman gets plenty of help from guards Tyson Carter (14 PPG) and Quinndary Weatherspoon (13.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.6 APG), but perhaps his most important partner is Abdul Ado, a defensively dominant forward who is blocking 2.4 shots per game and has helped power a team ranked 21st in opponent scoring (61.9 PPG) and 35th in adjusted defense.
Big Data Still Believes in the Bearcats
Yesterday, we spoke about not panicking over a tough two-game stretch. If my words were not enough to soothe you, then perhaps some number-crunching will do the trick. According to KenPom, UC is still a top 15 team, even if the AP poll doesn’t agree. Despite losing its last two games, UC is ranked No. 13 overall by KenPom and that includes an elite adjusted defense ranking of fifth. Obviously, these rankings will not fix the turnover issues from the Florida game or yield any tangible success, but it is worth noting in this time of duress.
Jarron and Jacob Need Their Jumpers
One of the prevailing disappointments of the last two weeks has been the play of Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland. Sure, Evans scored 23 points against Xavier on 9-of-15 shooting, but he did the bulk of that work in the second half as UC was attempting to claw back. Against Florida, Evans played 37 minutes, but he made just 4-of-13 shots, including an 0-for-4 performance from long range. In 2016-17, the 6’6” swingman shot 41.8 percent from three. He is down to a 38.1 percent success rate this year, and has gone 3-for-13 over the last two games. Getting Evans going and sinking shots is critical to the success of this team.
Additionally, Cumberland has been marred in a slump of his own, shooting just 33.3 percent from the field over the last five games. Cumberland’s overall contributions have sunk as well. He averaged 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game through the first five tilts of the year. He has managed a total of four rebounds and seven assists over the last four.
Let’s try this again, shall we? MSU has gotten by on the backs of weak competition. Even with a roster that has playmakers in and out of the paint, the Bulldogs are not working with the same type of deck as the Bearcats, who should come out aggressive as ever and anxious to get another win on the board. Expect more work for Cane Broome, who has been excellent recently, and for Evans and Cumberland to get back to normal as UC does the same.
Cincinnati 73 Mississippi State 62