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Trouble with the Three: Bearcats are Hurting from Long Range

The Bearcats have a problem and it lives beyond the arc.

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Every team in college basketball has flaws. Well, maybe not Virginia and Michigan since they haven’t lost yet, but everyone else has weaknesses. It’s also likely that the Cavaliers and Wolverines will have their own issues exposed at least once this year. If and when that does happen, they will hope it doesn’t occur in as blatant a manner as one of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ problems were revealed this past weekend.

By losing to the East Carolina Pirates, the Bearcats fell short against a team ranked 233rd in the country in adjusted efficiency margin and 311th in adjusted offense, according to KenPom. For an upset like that to occur, the Bearcats had to perform seriously poorly in some areas and the main culprit was three-point shooting. Normally, such a dismal effort (3-for-19) could be chalked up as an anomaly and we could all move on. The problem is, the Bearcats have been a distressingly ineffective team from three-point range most of the season, and that’s when they even bother to take attempts from distance. That tendency could be the basis for a blueprint on how to defend and ultimately defeat them.

The Bearcats aren’t exactly awful at shooting from long range. They are hitting an even 35.0 percent. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty average mark in comparison to the rest of the country (134th out of 353 teams). The real problem is that the Bearcats just don’t make shooting threes a big part of their offensive strategy. They are 333rd in the country in threes attempted per game (17.3), 337th in three-point rate (29.9 percent) and 304th in three-pointers made per game (6.1). With such an infrequent rate of attempts, they are getting only 24.2 percent of their points from beyond the arc this season. If you were wondering, that ranks 324th in the country.

It’s actually pretty astounding that the Bearcats are that far down the ranking considering the shooting of Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer. Cumberland is shooting a career-high 46.8 percent on 5.3 attempts per game while Jenifer is netting 44.9 percent on 3.5 attempts per game. Unfortunately, the rest of the roster can’t seem to buy a triple. Keith Wiliams has been a revelation offensively, but he is still trying to find his shot (28.1 percent from three). Meanwhile, as we discussed yesterday, Cane Broome is knocking down only 15.6 percent of his three-point tries, which can really weigh an offense down considering his 2.1 attempts per game. Lastly, Rashawn Fredericks has hit a middling 31.8 percent in a reserve role.

Now, the Bearcats are still pretty solid offensively otherwise. They are 40th in the nation in adjusted offense even without strong three-point shooting. In addition, they defend the perimeter pretty well most of the time, allowing just 7.5 threes per game on 33.9 percent shooting. The problem is, when a team such as East Carolina is able to hit threes at a decent clip, the Bearcats are in trouble. No matter how many tries they make from inside the arc, those shots will always be worth less than a three-pointer. You only have to look at UC’s three losses to see that. In those setbacks, the Bearcats have allowed an average of 9.7 threes per game while being outscored 87-36 from long range.

There may not be a quick fix to this issue, but the Bearcats at least need to find something close to a solution as the season continues.