Things changed this week as the Cincinnati Bearcats had a 15-game winning streak snapped in a road contest against now No. 19 SMU on Sunday. It means we have to talk about a loss for the first time in a while, but it doesn’t mean its time to panic. Especially after UC coasted to a 68-54 win over USF last night, improving to 23-3 overall and 12-1 in American Athletic Conference action. Now let’s dive in a little deeper.
Where’s the Bench?
Depth was a major strength for the Bearcats during its winning streak and the first 20 or so games. However, during the past week, the starters have been carrying the load almost entirely, with players off the bench doing very little to push UC toward victory. The lack of reserve production was particularly concerning against SMU when the Bearcats had a total of four bench points. With Troy Caupain forgetting how to shoot (0-for-7 from the floor), UC was in desperate need of someone else to step up and rip some nets. Unfortunately, Jarron Cumberland’s three-pointer was the only real impact shot from any backup.
Now, the blame can’t be laid at the feet of UC’s bench alone. After all, Mick Cronin reverted to riding his starters almost exclusively, with Justin Jenifer playing the most minutes of any backup against the Mustangs with nine.
However, even in a 14-point win over USF on Wednesday, the Bearcats once again got very little from the reserves, with nine total bench points. Jenifer did have five assists and Cumberland played 31 minutes in the contest, but still, UC needs to get the Cumberland who starred against Xavier and more help on defense and the glass from those who do not start.
Losing on the Boards
Speaking of needing help on the glass, the Bearcats need it more than you might think. Despite ranking fourth in the AAC in rebounding in league play (466), the Bearcats struggled to win the battle of the boards this past week. They just barely fell short against SMU (32-31), but if it wasn’t for Gary Clark (12 rebounds) it would have been a lot worse. Then, even while cruising past USF, the Bearcats were once again out-rebounded (38-35). That is not something you would expect from a squad that employs Clark and Washington as well as talented freshmen Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks. Dedicating more effort to cleaning the glass should be a point of emphasis the rest of the way, especially if UC shoots like it did in the second half against SMU at any other point.
Gary Clark is Still a Problem
As a team, the Bearcats had a so-so week and that’s being generous. However, that was in no way the fault of Clark, who played very well against both SMU and USF. He was a victim of the team-wide shooting struggles against SMU, finishing with six points on 2-of-7 from the field. However, he made up for that by producing in other areas. He finished with a game-high 12 rebounds and also accumulated three assists, a block and a steal.
Against USF, there were no caveats to Clark’s excellence. He scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, ripped down 14 rebounds (including five on the offensive end) and also blocked four shots.
Clark (10 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.2 BPG) has actually taken a step backward in terms of production, especially on the glass, compared to last season, when he averaged 8.8 rebounds per game. But weeks like this remind the AAC that he is still a player to be feared in the paint.
Losing to SMU caused UC to tumble quite a bit in the national rankings, as the Bearcats were ranked No. 11 in both the AP poll and Coaches poll, but are now at No. 19 and No. 17 in each ranking, respectively. In fact, the Bearcats loss of six spots was the largest drop of any team in the Coaches poll this week.
KenPom already had SMU ranked higher than UC before last Sunday, but the Bearcats have fallen a little bit more since then. They are now No. 22 in the country according to the analytic-based rankings, with the Mustangs at No. 16.
In addition, the Bearcats are now considered a No. 5 seed by a number of bracket projections, including ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Highlight of the Week
Just because UC lost to SMU doesn’t mean Kevin Johnson wasn’t dunking on everybody’s heads.
There are only five games left in the regular season. UC will play its next two at home, hosting Tulsa on Saturday and Memphis next Thursday. Its a bit of a tough slate, with Memphis one of the AAC’s better teams and Tulsa a squad that the Bearcats only beat by two points earlier this month.