It’s almost unfair that the Cincinnati Bearcats had to wait a week to play after the Crosstown Shootout. Instead of being able to quickly get back in action and move on, they have had to sit and stew about the 89-76 loss to the Xavier Musketeers last weekend. Of course during that stewing the Bearcats were also preparing for their next game, which is another big one, as they face the No. 5 Florida Gators as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey.
Who are the Florida Gators?
A team in decline to be sure, Florida won its first five games of the season but have fallen in three-straight. The first loss was easily excusable as they lost a competitive battle against the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils. The next two were more puzzling. On Monday, they were routed by Florida State 83-66. The Seminoles are undefeated and might actually be better than previously thought, however, Florida’s 65-59 loss to Loyola Chicago, at home, on Wednesday is what Sphinxian riddles are made of.
It was another night of offensive deficiency for the Gators, who shot just 36.9 percent from the floor, including a miserable 2-of-19 showing from beyond the arc. Keeping them from being successful from long range is apparently the key to victory, as Florida State showed, holding them to 6-of-25 from such a distance earlier in the week. Before Wednesday, the Gators ranked 11th in the country in three-point field goal percentage. Now they sit at 48th.
Despite the recent downward spiral, Florida still ranks as a top 25 team according to KenPom, sitting at No. 23. The Gators are 20th in adjusted offense and 33rd in adjusted defense while having playing the 91st toughest schedule to date.
Jalen Hudson is the standout player on the roster, as he can shoot from deep (2.6 threes per game) and everywhere else, scoring 19.4 points per game with a team-high PER of 29.4. However, the 6’6” junior was held to four points on 3-of-11 shooting against Loyola. He also contributed five missed threes.
Hudson is flanked by three other double figure scorers in Ego Koulechov (15.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG), KeVaughn Allen (13.0 PPG) and Chris Chiozza (11.4 PPG, 6.1 APG). Not a single one of them got to 10 points against Loyola.
Where Have You Gone Kyle Washington?
The most disappointing individual performance of the Crosstown Shootout, other than Mick Cronin’s technical and post-game behavior, was that of Kyle Washington. We talked a little bit about his struggles earlier in the week, but it bears repeating. Washington was held scoreless against Xavier and that’s after he played all of 14 minutes against Alabama State. He has been in for less than 20 minutes five times this year. Sure, part of that can be blamed on the blowout margin of victory in some of those games, but not all of it. Washington has not benefited from the less foes as much as say Gary Clark or Jacob Evans in the early going, averaging 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, all down exceptionally from a year ago.
If it’s a health thing, we haven’t heard much, but if its just a deterioration of his play that is extremely concerning and disappointing. Washington was an excellent transfer addition to this roster and has been exceptional at times. When he’s on it makes Clark and the team as a whole better. We know he has the talent to be a top flight post player. On Saturday, Washington has a real chance to bounce back and let the world know that he can play in the big ones. If he can’t, then maybe Nysier Brooks or Tre Scott should see more minutes.
Defense vs. Offense The Sequel
Just like last week against Xavier, this is a battle of a stingy defense and a dangerous offense. The offense (Xavier) won out last week, so UC has to be more focused and disciplined to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Led by Hudson, the Gators are scoring the 12th-most points per game in the country (90.3). UC, meanwhile, is allowing the 15th-fewest points per game in the nation (61.3). Thanks to FSU and Loyola, we know that the Bearcats’ best chance at slowing the Gators down is to make them uncomfortable from beyond the arc.
Stopping their strengths will allow the Bearcats to force a game they are well-equipped to play. The Gators don’t get a ton of scoring from two-point range, shooting 49.6 percent from such distances. That should have the Bearcats giddy, as they rank 25th in the country in blocked shots (48) and second in opponent two-point field goal percentage (.381).
Florida is obviously reeling and desperate for a win to stop its recent skid. That’s bad news for the Bearcats, who may be entering a bit of a trap. However, UC has the ability to prey on the Gators’ weaknesses and the motivation that losing to Xavier can create. As long as the Bearcats follow the blueprint that’s been detailed this week, they should be able to squeeze out a win.
Cincinnati 78 Florida 73