Early season college basketball tournaments are a staple of Thanksgiving weekend. When there’s turkey and mashed potatoes (or whatever your chosen delicacies are), there are hoops to consume as well. The Cincinnati Bearcats will take part in that time-honored tradition on Friday when they face the George Mason Patriots as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.
Technically, the Bearcats (3-1) have already gotten to work in the tournament, as they won satellite games against NC Central and Western Michigan. Those two wins are the bookends of a three-game winning streak UC will ride into its matchup with the Patriots. Also included in the field of eight teams are Baylor, Ole Miss, Southern and Nicholls State. The winner of the contest between UC and George Mason will take on the winner of Baylor/Ole Miss in the tournament’s championship game on Saturday.
Who are the George Mason Patriots?
Most college basketball fans will always remember George Mason as the No. 11 seed that went all the way to the Final Four in 2006. It’s been a long time since then and even if the Patriots have been back to the NCAA Tournament in the interim, they have been mostly forgettable recently. They are off to a 2-3 start this year and have had just one winning record in the five seasons preceding it. However, things have been turning around slightly in the last week, as they’ve won back-to-back games, even if they’ve come against the likes of Southern and NC Central (1-8 combined).
In their win over NC Central, the Patriots were paced by 24 points on a remarkable 10-of-13 shooting from redshirt junior Jarred Reuter. The 6’7” forward was only averaging 8.8 points per game prior to the contest, and his ascension to top option fits into George Mason’s all hands on deck approach. Four different players are averaging in double figures, led by Justin Kier (12.2 PPG) and Jaire Grayer (12.0 PPG), who showed off some playmaking skills against the Eagles, handing out five assists while letting his teammates handle the primary scoring responsibilities.
Brooks, Boards and Blocks
Prior to this season, Nysier Brooks had never posted a double-double. In fact, he had only scored in double figures once and never gotten to 10 rebounds. This year, he has already recorded a pair of double-doubles, logging them in back-to-back games against Milwaukee and Western Michigan. His work against the Broncos was especially magnificent, as he tallied a career-high 15 points to go with 10 boards and a pair of blocks. The 6’11” forward is a new addition to the starting lineup and he is certainly taking advantage. Four games is a small sample size, but he is averaging the type of numbers (9.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG) that imply more double-doubles are in his future.
The Offense Takes Shape
As much as there have been different heroes each night for the Bearcats, we got a reminder of who the best player on this team is on Monday. Junior swingman Jarron Cumberland was in complete control, scoring 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting while handing out six assists. The offense is going to live and die by Cumberland, who is currently producing a usage rate of 36.7 percent and is the only player averaging in double figures (18.3 PPG).
While Cumberland is going to have the ball in his hands more often than not, Bearcats’ head coach Mick Cronin is figuring out the rotations that work around his best scoring option. Keith Williams is proving to be a great addition to the starting lineup, as he provides not only scoring but solid wing defense and some rebounding. Cane Broome may go back and forth between the bench and the first unit, but he is back to being a lightning-quick scoring threat with distribution capabilities. Williams, Brooks, Broome and Trevon Scott are all averaging at least nine points per game, and then there’s Justin Jenifer and Logan Johnson, who are making sure ball movement is a key piece of the game plan.
UC participated in the Cayman Islands Classic last year and won the whole thing. While they may have a more difficult time in this particular tournament, this is a winnable game, especially since their identity is finally being solidified. Cincinnati 77 George Mason 65