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Bearcats Finish Third Place in Disappointing Paradise Jam Event

Cincinnati returns home after going 2-1 in Paradise Jam.

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

When the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball schedule came out, I’d say 100% of fans rolled their eyes at the Paradise Jam event and assumed the Bearcats would cruise to a 3-0 weekend and another crappy in-season tournament championship that means nothing. That’s not exactly what transpired on the Virgin Islands...

Bearcats will return home after a 2-1 weekend (now 4-2 record overall). They come home banged up with a lot of questions that need to be answered rather quickly.

Tournament Recap

Game 1 - Beat Illinois State 66-65

Cincinnati overcame a 10 point deficit in the second half. The final minute was hectic as Trevon Scott gave Cincinnati their first lead since it was 4-2, but Illinois State countered. Jarron Cumberland, who finished with 23 points, was able to hit the game winner as the Bearcats survived.

Jarron’s cousin, Jaevin, suffered a knee injury that required him to be carried off the floor and was ruled out for the game after playing just 8 minutes.

There were many questions and concerns coming out of this game, but the win was all that mattered and with a day off in between games 1 and 2, it was probably safe to assume these issues would get worked out.

Game 2 - Lost to Bowling Green 91-84 in overtime

In the final stretch of this game, the Bearcats win probability on ESPN was close to 100% as the Bearcats led by 9 with 3 minutes to go. But Bowling Green fought back and was able to tie the game, before sending it to overtime and putting Cincinnati away.

The good news is that, despite the injury sustained on Friday, Jaevin Cumberland was able to play. The bad news, is there were a lot of issues with this team on Sunday night.

One issue is related to Jarron Cumberland, who tweaked his leg in the first half and sat the entire second half. This sparked many questions from fans as to what was going on - was this John Brannen sending another message to his star? Was he benched? Was he injured? No one knew for sure. An injury seemed like the most obvious thing, but Jarron would return to play in overtime, which made his second half absence even more bizarre. It turns out he convinced coach to let him come in.

I personally thought that was a mistake, especially in hindsight, considering he was too hurt to play on Monday. At this level, there’s no need to push it. Especially not in these types of games. You’re either hurt and you can’t play or you can play. There is no in-between. For most of the game, Jarron couldn’t go, then suddenly he could? Seems odd.

The other major issue was free throws. I’ll say it again with a different tone - FREEEEEE throws. Cincinnati shot an absurd 31 of 55 from the charity stripe. That’s absurd for two reasons. One, 55 free throws is a lot! Teams don’t lose, when they shoot 55 free throws. And two, you can’t possibly miss 24 free throws. In a 7 point game that went to overtime, that Cincinnati led down the stretch, you absolutely must hit free throws.

Game 3 - Beat Valparaiso 81-77 in overtime

Once again, the Bearcats blew a 10 point lead down the stretch, but this time they were able to recover and hang on to win in overtime. Jarron Cumberland did not play, due to the injury sustained in game 2. Again, very bizarre that he was too hurt to play the second half Sunday, but was capable of playing overtime, but couldn’t play on Monday.

Chris Vogt, Keith Williams, Trevon Scott, and Mika Adams-Woods were among the guys who stepped up in Jarron’s absence. Cincinnati won, despite turning the ball over 22 times.

Questions Moving Forward

Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers, but here are my key questions moving forward.

What is the health of both Cumberlands?

Jarron, as stated left Sunday’s game and sat out Monday’s. How severe are his injuries, especially with the Xavier game around the corner?

Jaevin, who left early Friday, managed to play both Sunday and Monday. There’s no way he’s 100% but how bad is his knee and when will he have full health?

Additionally, what is the relationship between Jarron and his head coach? Many fans were quick to speculate why he was on the bench on Sunday and that’s because he already missed one game (Alabama A&M) due to an apparent disciplinary benching.

Where would this team be without Chris Vogt?

Thankfully, this question doesn’t really need an answer, it’s a hypothetical. Of all the newcomers, both freshman and transfers, Vogt probably moved the needle the least. He came over from Northern Kentucky and wasn’t viewed as a game changing player by most fans.

Here are Vogt’s numbers from the weekend

  • vs Illinois St - 13 points (4-4 FG, 5-6 FT), 13 rebounds
  • vs Bowling Green - 10 points, 8 rebounds
  • vs Valpo - 21 points (9-11 FG), 7 rebounds

Vogt wasn’t even expecting to play this season. He surprisingly received a waiver for immediate eligibility.

Should some of the freshman see more playing time?

PG Mika Adams-Woods scored a career-high 10 points on Monday. Veteran Chris McNeal has struggled at times with his shooting and rhythm. Maybe a lineup change at some point can help this team find a spark and McNeal could be a very valuable player off the bench.

Zach Harvey played 27 minutes Monday and while he didn’t light up the box score he certainly had an impact moving the ball around (4 assists) and defending well.

Three Issues

Health is #1 right now - Jarron, especially, but also Jay Sorolla missed these 3 games and is expected to miss another couple of weeks. His bench minutes were important, so Cincinnati has to find a way to compensate, without much height on their bench.

Turnovers - Cincinnati committed 58 turnovers this weekend. That’s absolutely unacceptable and needs to be fixed asap.

Free throws - They are supposed to be FREE! And they are the reason Cincinnati lost on Sunday night.

Moving Forward

I am definitely angry and upset about Sunday night and about this weekend as a whole. This team clearly needs a lot of work. Missing 24 free throws is not related to a new system or integrating new players. That’s solely on the players. And maybe we overestimated some of these players and this team as a whole.

But, I will say this. part of me is glad they struggled. I think this coaching staff and these players will learn a lot more about themselves coming off of three games where they had to fight and earn it, as opposed to these past Thanksgiving tournaments where the Bearcats cruise and aren’t tested at all.

Of course, that’s assuming they learn from this and show improvement.

I know many folks were ready to kick Brannen out the door and burn the program to the ground on Sunday night for losing to a lowly MAC team (one that is projected to finish 1st or second, depending on the publication). It’s not a good loss or a good look. But at the end of the day, Bowling Green will likely be good enough that this is a quadrant 2 loss. Last year, the Bearcats lost to East Carolina, in what was considered a quadrant 4 loss. For this loss to mean nothing, Cincinnati must win at least one of their big non-conference games against Xavier, Tennessee, Iowa and avoid another Q2-3 loss along the way.

I am definitely not writing this team off. Not even close. I think an experience like this weekend can bring a team closer together and that’s what I believe will happen. They’ll be more equipped to handle conference play come January and fully battled tested and ready to go in March.

What’s Next

Bearcats play at Fifth Third Arena on Saturday against UNLV and host a pesky Vermont team on Tuesday. Vermont gave Virginia a scare last week, so this is not a pushover team at all and Cincinnati absolutely needs to bring their A+ game to survive.

And of course on Saturday December 7th is the Xavier game. Xavier looked strong in their tournament this past weekend and are a valid top 25 team. Beating them could easily change the entire perception and trajectory of this season. Losing to them would....never mind. Losing is not an option when it comes to Xavier, and I believe a healthy Jarron knows that and will play like that. But more to come on that game...