Do you remember the last time the Cincinnati Bearcats lost? It was all the way back on Dec. 10, 2016. It was a different world then. La La Land had yet to eat up the cultural zeitgeist, people still weren’t sure if the Atlanta Falcons were legit and Barack Obama was still president. That 75-65 setback against Butler has been almost completely washed away by the current 13-game winning streak the Bearcats are riding. Here’s what this past week has brought us.
Nysier Brooks Injured
A few weeks ago I mused about whether or not Brooks had passed Tre Scott as the first big man off the bench. That trend seemed to continue until this week when Brooks has been sidelined with a hyper extended knee.
Update from #UC coach Mick Cronin: Nysier Brooks hyperextended his knee. No damage. Still sore, day-to-day.— Tom Groeschen (@TomGroeschen) January 31, 2017
The day-to-day timetable may not be entirely accurate, as Brooks sat out against Tulsa and was seen with crutches.
Luckily, one of UC’s strengths this season is its depth. Brooks being injured is obviously a major negative but there are players ready to fill in. Scott has shown flashes of being a very solid contributor, especially with his low-post defense and rebounding. In addition, this might just be the moment for Quadri Moore, who has never carved out a consistent role.
Moore got in for 16 minutes in last Sunday’s rout of USF, but everyone on the roster played a decent amount of minutes in that one, even John Koz and Jackson Bart. What was more telling was Moore’s contributions in Wednesday’s road battle with Tulsa. Moore tallied 11 minutes (second most for a bench player) and scored three points. If Brooks remains sidelined, perhaps Moore will get more time on the floor.
Scott seemed like the more likely candidate to eat up Brooks’ minutes, but he only played for six minutes against the Golden Hurricane and has played less than 10 minutes in five of the last eight contests. Mick Cronin has relied heavily on the starting five and Jarron Cumberland as a sixth man, so opportunities for others have been limited, especially in close games, but one of Moore and Scott is going to have to step up with Brooks sidelined.
The play of UC’s guards has been very solid this season. From the scoring of Jacob Evans and Cumberland, to the three and D efforts of Kevin Johnson, to the overall stat sheet stuffing of Troy Caupain, there has been plenty to like in the backcourt. One area that may not be getting as much publicity is the Bearcats’ strength in holding onto the ball. This has been especially true in league play, where they have committed the second fewest turnovers (106) compared to the rest of the league. Against USF, the Bearcats forced 24 takeaways and coughed the ball up nine times. Even against Tulsa they only turned the ball over 11 times, while forcing 16 miscues from Tulsa.
Evans, Caupain, Johnson and Cumberland have been the best players on the team when it comes to holding onto the ball. Evans has been particularly careful, with a turnover percentage of just 10.6. Caupain (11 percent), Cumberland (12.5 percent) and Johnson (12.7 percent) have been solid as well.
Last Second Shot Options
Caupain’s jumper with four seconds remaining sealed UC’s victory against Tulsa on Wednesday night. The shot got me thinking about who exactly should be taking the last shot for the Bearcats. Caupain has hit two game-winners this year, with the other coming against Marshall in December. However, with his range and the fact that he is the best pure scorer on the team, Evans would make sense to get looks in the final seconds as well. Finally, Cumberland’s willingness to put the ball on the deck and will his way to the bucket, as well as his quick release from long range, make him a player that could be taking those critical shots as well.
I’m not here to say one player should be taking shots over the other, but it certainly is a nice luxury having three guys who can and want to step up and let the ice flow through their veins.
UC reached its highest ranking since 2014 this week, rising to No. 14 in the AP Top 25 and matching that spot in the USA Today Coaches poll. The Bearcats have now been ranked in nine-straight weeks and 10 total this year.
Following its win on Wednesday, and what’s happened in the rest of college basketball since, UC is the No. 17 team in the country according to KenPom.
Highlight of the Week
On Saturday it will be revenge time for the Bearcats, who take on UConn for the first time since falling in four overtimes to the Huskies in last year’s American Athletic Conference Tournament. From there UC will host UCF in preparation for next Sunday’s showdown at SMU.