It would be pretty difficult for a team to beat another team worse than the Cincinnati Bearcats beat the UCLA Bruins on Wednesday. That doesn’t mean the Bearcats won’t be willing to try. Their first chance will be this Saturday against the South Carolina State Bulldogs at Fifth Third Arena.
The matchup with the Bulldogs will be the last of the non-conference schedule and the last of 2018 as a whole for the Bearcats. Following this game, UC will take a sabbatical until Jan. 2 when it starts American Athletic Conference play against the Tulane Green Wave. Before the Bearcats do that, they’ll try to put an exclamation point on a largely successful first half (or so) of the season. Aside from losses to ranked Ohio State and Mississippi State squads, the Bearcats have been exceptional, rattling off a 10-2 start with significant wins against Xavier, Ole Miss and the aforementioned Bruins.
Who are the South Carolina State Bulldogs?
Considering the Bearcats just topped UCLA, which is ranked 59th in the country in adjusted efficiency margin, by nearly 30 points, the odds are that they will be even more cruel to the Bulldogs. South Carolina State is just 2-12 overall and has lost four-straight, including a 79-55 setback against Miami-Ohio on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs haven’t just been losing by a point or two either. Including the loss to the RedHawks, they have been outscored by an average of roughly 10 points per game this season. If you take out their two wins against Brevard College and Voorhees College, neither of which is a Division I program, they are losing by an average of 17.3 points per game.
As you might expect, the Bulldogs’ struggles are evident in the advanced metrics as well. They are 341st out of 353 Division I schools in adjusted efficiency (-18.66) and outside of he top 300 in offense and defense, according to KenPom.
All the futility is nothing new for the Bulldogs. The long-time members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference won only 10 games last season and 11 the year before that. They haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003 and have just two winning records in the last 10 years.
The Bulldogs’ offense runs almost exclusively through 6’8” junior Damani Applewhite, who is is scoring 18.7 points per game on 54.6 percent shooting. He is the only player on the team averaging in double figures and also leads the way in rebounding (6.9 per game). Applewhite does most of his damage inside of three-point range, as does the entire team. The Bulldogs score 61.4% of their points from two-point range, according to Team Rankings, and are fifth in the country in two-point rate (74.6 percent).
Aside from symbolic titles of leadership, the Bearcats are being carried by different players across a number of statistical categories. Let’s take a quick look at who is the best at what prior to Saturday’s contest.
In terms of scoring, its obviously Jarron Cumberland. The junior wing is is scoring 16.6 points per game and 23.5 per 100 possessions. He has scored in double figures in all but one game and has surpassed 20 points five times, including in each of the last two games. Cumberland also leads the team in three-pointers made (28) and is tied for the team-lead in three-point field goal percentage (.467) with Justin Jenifer. The two knocked down seven combined triples during UC’s three-point coming out party against the Bruins.
Trevon Scott is the team-leader in rebounds based on sheer quantity, averaging 6.4 per game. However, Eliel Nsoseme (13.7) and Nysier Brooks (10.4) are both averaging more per 40 minutes. Brooks is also tops on the team in both true (.649) and effective field goal percentage (.625), although that’s primarily since he is feasting on a meager helping of open looks near the basket while showing real improvement at the free-throw line. Brooks also leads the team in blocks, whether you go by block rate, per 100 possessions or old fashioned counting. Being the best at that is pretty impressive considering UC is 22nd in the country in blocks as a team.
In assists, Jenifer has been the most productive, dropping 4.4 dimes per game. His superiority in this category extends to all measures, including assist rate. His mark of 32.3 percent is more than 10 points higher than the next-best Bearcat. A for steals, Cumberland is the leader in quantity (1.4 per game), but reserves Trevor Moore and Logan Johnson are both producing them at a higher rate.
As long as the Bearcats zero in on Applewhite defensively, they will have absolutely no problem winning this one. In fact, that’s true even if they don’t. Cincinnati 90 South Carolina State 55