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Seniors Struggle in 65-56 Loss at Tennessee

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Underclassmen shine in the Bearcats first road test of the year

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Seniors are expected to give a team the most consistency and stability due to their experience at the college level. Unfortunately, Cincinnati’s seniors have not provided these two attributes which has forced the underclassmen to shoulder more of the load in this early season. As a result, the underclassmen were the bright spots in the loss to the Tennessee Volunteers while the seniors were forgettable at best. Overall, the team played much better defense while unveiling a new half-court zone that threw the Vols off-balance, but fouls were once again the main story as Tennessee had 30 (yes, 3-0) free throw attempts.

The Bad

People will complain about the officiating and while the foul disparity was 26 for the Cincinnati Bearcats and only 10 for the Volunteers, the officiating was not the reason Cincinnati lost this game. The refs allowed Tennessee to be more physical than the Bearcats (DeJulius somehow had no free throw attempts) and if I had to guess, the fouls probably should’ve been 22-14 instead of 26-10. Even with that change, I don’t think the Bearcats win primarily because of their 17 turnovers.

Rapolas Ivanauskas had a nightmare game and it looks like Tari Eason is going to get a lot of minutes going forward. Ivanauskas was 0-4 from the field with 5 turnovers while Eason had 10 points and 7 rebounds. Eason missed a crucial switch on a screen late in the game and took some ill-advised screens, but Coach John Brannen is going to have to live with that as the freshman continues to grow and develop. Ivanauskas is a finished product and his further improvement will be marginal. The Colgate transfer desperately needs to polish his footwork because this is the third straight game where he has travelled multiple times. He’s had the ball stripped away easily and he provides little to no resistance on the defensive end.

Keith Williams and Chris Vogt are supposed to be the leaders on this team, both in attitude and on the floor. While both have had positive moments, the mental mistakes on Saturday were inexcusable. Williams once again got in foul trouble early and picked up two fouls 85 feet from the basket. Chris Vogt fouled out for the third straight game and had 4 turnovers including an inexplicable charge where it looked like he turned away from the basket in order to truck a Tennessee defender. It’s clear teams know how to completely neutralize Vogt and he is a finished product like Ivanauskas so don’t expect much improvement.

The three seniors combined for 12 points, 12 fouls, and 11 turnovers.

The Good

There’s reason to be hopeful for the future as the underclassmen provided the only sparks for the Bearcats while battling the #12 Tennessee Volunteers. Jeremiah Davenport was sensational going 4/7 from three with 14 points, leading the way for UC. While David DeJulius only shot 5/17 from the field, he still pushed the envelope and made crucial buckets in the second half that had the Bearcats leading 53-51 with just over six minutes to go in the game. I thought Zach Harvey and Mike Saunders Jr. played tough perimeter defense, but I hope they can provide more of an offensive punch as the season goes on. This also applies to Mika Adams-Woods who needs to find a way to get to the line more because he is unforgiving from the charity stripe. All of the underclassmen took advantage of the new 3-2 zone from John Brannen which forced some Tennessee turnovers and missed shots which gave the Bearcats life in the second half.

Going Forward

Most did not expect the Bearcats to win this game. However, when they led early and really took the game to the Vols, expectations quickly changed and the loss became disappointing. I am encouraged that we were in position to win the game and I hope Brannen goes with smaller more nimble lineups that are less prone to fouling and turning the ball over.

A lot of fans’ concerns are compounded by the fact that Brannen currently has 0 commits for the 2021 recruiting class and has struck out on a few early targets. When fans don’t think things are going well for their team, they like to look to the future. With 0 commits, they feel there is nothing to look forward to.

Everyone needs to relax. Brannen is barely in his second year on the job and he won the conference regular season championship last season. There are going to be growing pains. He dealt with multiple transfers and departures last year and had to scrape together a competitive team and he’s had to deal with a severely limited offseason this year along with another departure as Mamoudou Diarra opted out this season due to COVID-19 concerns. The team could have definitely used his depth during the Tennessee game, but this is the hand that this team has been dealt. Brannen has gone through the ringer a few times and the least we can do as a fan base is have a little patience. I’m worried about the 2021 class too, but I’m confident Brannen will bring in the right guys to improve this team.

JUNCTA JUVANT