The sky is not falling, at least not yet. The Cincinnati Bearcats may be down in the national rankings and coming off a disgusting loss at UCF, but they are still sitting in strong position as March nears, boasting a 25-4 overall record and a 14-2 mark in American Athletic Conference play. Here are some things to think about during the last week of non-postseason games.
Regular Season Title Hopes Nearly Gone
Its an unfortunate reality that we have to face, but it appears that the Bearcats will not be winning the AAC regular season title. Although they have the same 25-4 overall record as SMU, the 53-49 road loss to UCF on Sunday dropped them a game back of the Mustangs in the race for the crown.
With two games remaining for each side, the odds are not in UC’s favor. SMU plays home games against Tulsa and Memphis to close the year, which is a toughish slate, but being as the Mustangs are 16-0 at home, the chances they will lose aren’t the best. Meanwhile, the Bearcats will face a solid Houston squad and then visit resurgent UConn to close out the regular portion of the campaign. They could and should win those games, but in order to capture an AAC regular season championship, they would need SMU to lose twice. Once again, that just doesn’t seem likely.
But do not despair. That just means UC will have to settle things on the court during the AAC Tournament.
Avoiding Foul Trouble
While it didn’t hold true against UCF, especially for Gary Clark and Kevin Johnson, who both committed four fouls on Sunday, the Bearcats have been a very stingy team when it comes to putting opponents at the free throw line. We’ve touched on it before, but as the season nears its conclusion, its beyond fair to say this is more than a trend.
UC ranks 335th nationally in personal fouls (455). Normally you don’t want to be ranked in the 300s in anything in college basketball, or sports in general, but this is one exception to that rule. With so few fouls to go around, UC opponents have only taken 464 foul shots, the 25th-fewest in the country. Now, the frequency of fouls being handed out has inched up in conference play, as UC ranks fourth in the conference in opponent foul shots attempted (267) and personal fouls (256). In addition, since UC has led most of the time, it has not had to resort to fouling near the end of many games to keep games close, thus inflating foul totals. Still, even during the regular course of action, the Bearcats are not fouling all that much.
What is most impressive about these low number of fouls is how they come despite UC having such an aggressive defensive style, which has led to plenty of steals, and multiple players who attack drivers to the hoop and go for blocked shots. The Bearcats rank 18th in the country in blocks (157) and 37th in steals (224). They lead the AAC in steals in conference play (121) and rank second in blocks (80). Of course the players adding the most to those totals are also the most responsible for fouls, with blocks leader Kyle Washington (1.3 PG) also leading the team in fouls (2.4 PG). However, its been impressive to see Gary Clark average fewer than two fouls per game while producing 2.1 steals and blocks combined each contest.
The last stretch run of Troy Caupain’s college career has not been going according to plan. Although he had strong games against Tulsa (11 points, eight assists) and Memphis (12 points, seven assists), the Bearcats’ point guard has not seemed to be himself of late. He is averaging only 6.9 points per game while shooting 28.8 percent from the floor in the last seven games. Part of the problem is he is taking (and missing) too many three pointers. He is attempting more than four and a half triples a contest and making roughly one of those each time. During the aforementioned grouping of games, he has shot below 20 percent three times and has been above .500 just once. As has been pointed out, strong point guard play usually leads to success for UC in the NCAA Tournament, so Caupain really needs to shake off whatever is slowing him down.
Congrats to Cronin on 300
Since our last takeaways post, Mick Cronin won his 300th game as a D1 college basketball coach. It is a major accomplishment and puts him in some elite company, including that of UC’s all-time greatest head coach Bob Huggins. A hearty congratulations to Cronin.
Its been a bit of a roller coaster the last two weeks in the AP poll, with a similar trajectory in the USA Today Coaches poll. As of now, the Bearcats are sitting at the No. 18 spot in the AP top 25 and No. 20 in the Coaches poll.
UC has fallen back to No. 24 in KenPom’s rankings and are now not even a top 10 team in adjusted defensive efficiency, placing 12th in the nation (92.8).
Although UC has been hurt in terms of AAC positioning by its recent loss to UCF, its place in the NCAA Tournament has remained static. A virtual lock for the Big Dance, the Bearcats are still a No. 5 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology update for ESPN.
Highlight of the Week
To paraphrase my close personal friend* Bill Raftery, “With a kiss!”
*We have never met but I feel like we’d get along.
As discussed above, UC faces Houston at home and then travels to take on UConn this week. Then its postseason time.