Cincinnati Bearcats have made the NCAA Tournament for 9 consecutive seasons. For them to make it a 10th straight season, a lot of work needs to be done.
Bringing up the NCAA Tournament in December seems crazy, right? It is, but a lot of people seem to be dismissing the Bearcats’ chances after a home loss to Colgate dropped Cincinnati to 6-4. The loss was embarrassing, disappointing, and frustrating. There are probably another dozen emotions you could use. But you know what word you should not use? Over.
Despite the loss, this season is far from over.
Well, duh. It’s only been 10 games. But if you have been on social media or message boards in the last 24+ hours, you would think John Brannen should be fired, the tournament streak is over, and the program is at it’s lowest point ever. Well, Brannen won’t be and should not be fired anytime soon, the tournament streak is still very much alive, and...seriously? This isn’t even the lowest point this decade (the brawl, the loss to Presbyterian, Nevada...should I continue??).
John Brannen’s rough start
First, let’s start with a defense of coach Brannen. This team is off to a difficult start. There’s no defending losses to Bowling Green and Colgate. Excuses like new system and new players are growing tired among fans. But we are still only 10 games into a new era, in which 3 key players returned and the rest are all transfers or freshman.
Look at some examples of several legendary coaches about why it’s a waste of energy to argue that John Brannen should be fired this quickly.
- Mike Krzyzewski led Duke a 17-13 record in his first season and a trip to the NIT quarterfinals
- Tom Izzo went 16-16 at Michigan State and made the NIT second round
- Bob Huggins went 20-14 in year one at Cincinnati and 23-12 in his lone year at Kansas State (both NIT seasons).
In no way, shape, or form am I comparing Brannen to these coaches. We may never be half of what these coaches are today. But the point is that Duke and Michigan State didn’t panic, even though it took Coach K 4 years and Tom Izzo 3 years to make the NCAA Tournament. Worked well for them.
This season has been crazy so far. Duke lost at home to Stephen F Austin and Kentucky lost at home to Evansville. The #1 ranked team has lost 4 times already. Anything can happen on any night.
Brannen inherited 3 returning players - Jarron Cumberland, Trevon Scott and Keith Williams (Diarra was inherited too and used sparingly and Trevor Moore inherited but recently left). Despite being sick of this excuse, you must consider that coach Brannen is working to install a new system, culture, and style while merging an old era (Mick’s guys), new era (his freshman), and temporary era (transfers).
The good news for Cincinnati’s chances to play in a 10th straight NCAA Tournament is that their resume still offers plenty of opportunities to play statement games. That starts this week with two key games against 2019 (and likely 2020) Tournament teams - Tennessee at Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday and Iowa in Chicago on Saturday.
Obviously, winning both would keep the Bearcats in control of an at-large bid and going 1-1 would keep their hopes alive. Losing both games will put them in a very challenging hole entering conference play.
In the AAC, there are two key games against each of Memphis, Houston, and even UConn (who still registers some respect on a national level). The margin of error will be extremely slim and regardless of what happens this week, the Bearcats cannot afford to lose more than 3 or 4 games in conference play.
Lack of confidence
The scenario above sounds reasonable. But the biggest challenge will be the fact that this team hasn’t played inspiring basketball all season. They struggled in all three games in the Paradise Jam, went to overtime with UNLV, and lost to Colgate.
This team is still a work-in-progress and there’s no telling how long that process will continue until results can be seen. There’s little cohesion, not much confidence, and way more questions than answers.
The biggest question is what is going on with Jarron Cumberland. He has been banged up and injured all season but that doesn’t explain the many missed (and poor) shots, the turnovers, and, of course, the way the Colgate game ended.
I’m not an expert on body language, so I can’t criticize Cumberland for how he walks and acts on the court. But something is up. Is he disengaged? Is he uncomfortable with the new coaches or players?
No one but Jarron himself knows what the issue is but only he can fix it.
It’s truly anyone’s guess how this season ends. I would really like to believe that this team has it in them to dig down deep, come together, and rally their way into March. I would like to believe that Jarron will get healthy and get his act together. The good news, is after Iowa on 12/21, the next game isn’t until 1/1 (against UConn), so perhaps some time off and the holidays will help Jarron and others clear their heads and rest up.
I would like to believe that all will be well this season but it’s hard to really see it right now. But I do have full faith that everything will be great in the future. I believe in Coach Brannen, who has put together a good recruiting class for 2020, with more to come.