One of the time honored traditions of the preseason of any sport is making predictions. However, the tradition of actually going back and looking at those prognostications is less heralded or even practiced. When throwing out conference winners, Final Four picks or what have you before the season, that content is gobbled up and dissected and then never spoken of again, especially once the season really gets underway.
Prediction No. 1 - Troy Caupain will win AAC Player of the Year and Gary Clark will win Defensive Player of the Year (again)
What’s difficult with this prediction is that it is not as if Caupain and Clark were bad. Far from it. Caupain became the all-time leader in assists at UC and Clark continued to be dominant, just not as dominant as the year before. Caupain was picked as the preseason POTY by the American Athletic Conference but a dip in scoring (10.5 PPG from 13.0 PPG) plus the incredible play of SMU’s Semi Ojeleye kept Caupain off the podium, although he did earn second-team all-conference honors.
As for Clark, Tacko Fall of UCF took away Clark’s DPOTY award due to his eye-popping block numbers. But that doesn’t mean Clark was bad on defense. On the contrary, he was excellent once again. He ranked third in the AAC in defensive rating (91.9) and fifth in defensive win shares (2.4), which were numbers right in line with what he produced the year before.
So even though we didn’t get this prediction exactly right, the reasoning and sentiment behind them (Caupain will be really good and Clark will be great on defense) stood up.
Prediction No. 2 - Jacob Evans will lead the team in scoring
Result: Nailed it
During a solid freshman campaign, during which he steadily increased his playing time, Evans ranked fifth on the team in scoring. With a starting gig firmly in his grasp, Evans rocketed up the charts and was easily the best scoring threat for the Bearcats as a sophomore. His 13.6 points per game average was the highest by a Bearcat since Sean Kilpatrick netted 20.6 per game during the 2013-14 season. Evans’ offensive rating ranked second on the team (126.6) behind Clark, and his team-leading offensive win shares (3.8) helped fuel his team-best 6.0 total win shares. Those types of numbers only come from efficient scorers, and Evans was that, with a true shooting percentage of .596 and an effective field goal percentage of .570.
Prediction No. 3 - The Bearcats will defeat Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout
Result: Nailed it
Who cares that Xavier got further in the NCAA Tournament than UC? The Musketeers succumbed to defeat against UC in this year’s episode of the Crosstown Shootout, easily one of the best (the best, if you ask me/anyone that knows Cincy hoops) rivalries in the game. Powered by 21 points from Evans, 15 from Jarron Cumberland and a double-double from Clark, the Bearcats roared back from a 44-36 halftime deficit and improved to 18-2 with an 86-78 win over the X on Jan. 26, ending a three-game losing streak to their hated rivals.
Prediction No. 4 - UC will win the conference championship
For much of the season, this prediction looked like it would prove to be correct. Unfortunately, SMU had other plans. The Mustangs claimed a 60-51 win over the Beaercats on Feb. 12 which, coupled with UC’s disappointing loss at UCF later in the month, pushed SMU to a regular season title. The two teams met up again in the AAC Tournament title game, but once again the Mustangs got the better of the duel, blocking UC out of tournament title as well.
Once again, this wasn’t a complete failure of a prediction. The Bearcats did win 30 games overall and finished 16-2 in conference action. That could easily have been a conference championship winning resume. Its just too bad SMU’s was a little better.
Prediction No. 5 - The Bearcats will make it to the Sweet 16
When UC steamrolled Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, there was a real surge of confidence, even as Lonzo Ball and UCLA stood in the way of UC’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012. That confidence carried into the first half of that second round matchup, as the Bearcats led 33-30 at halftime against the Bruins. However, the air was let out of the celebratory balloon in the second half, as the Bearcats only hit 14-of-34 (41.2 percent) from the floor while UCLA shot 63.3 percent and nailed seven three-pointers. It was an unfortunate last gasp, but once again, this prediction doesn’t look bad at all. It just missed by a half.
So 2-for-5 isn’t all that bad. The hope is next year we will have equally as ambitious predictions and a few more correct answers.