We all knew our defense would drop off after Mick Cronin left for UCLA. However, we believed the offensive progression under Coach Brannen would far outweigh the defensive regression. Brannen’s emphasis on pace-and-space would bring the Bearcats into the modern age of basketball and the 58-55 rock fights of yesteryear would disappear. But the defensive “effort” displayed in this year’s Crosstown Shootout was worrying to say the least.
The Lack of a Rim Protector
At 7’1”, Chris Vogt’s length should be enough to provide decent rim protection to keep the Bearcats afloat, but the UC big man is too heavy-footed to keep up with quick guards even when given a four or five step head start. To see Paul Scruggs, Dwon Odom, and Kyky Tandy continuously go right past or around Vogt for easy layups was incredibly frustrating. And it’s not like Vogt was guarding them on the perimeter after a switch. No, Vogt was the last line of defense waiting for the driving Musketeer guards and he STILL got beat. Chad Brendel of Bearcat Journal noted that the Musketeers were 13/13 on layups (and 20/25 from the line) for the game. That’s not a typo. That’s terrible defense.
Now this isn’t all Vogt’s fault. Brannen’s decision to play Vogt 32 minutes (which I believe led all Bearcats) is irresponsible primarily because the NKU transfer was showing clear signs of fatigue throughout the second half. Even though Vogt was 4/4 from the field, the guards weren’t feeding him in the post so his offensive production did not offset his deficiencies on defense. Also, he had three 3-pointers splashed in his face because he sags off way too much when playing man-to-man defense. This is when Brannen should have either taken Vogt out or gone to a zone defense to prevent the close shot attempts. I know Xavier shot 39% from three, but I’d rather have them chucking deep balls than getting layup after layup.
Questionable Lineups and Rotations
Brannen said after the game that he is still learning his team since it’s only the second game of the season, but the decision to only play Zach Harvey four minutes left a lot of fans scratching their heads. I understand he primarily subs in for Keith Williams, but Mika Adams-Woods didn’t have the best game offensively and Harvey could’ve provided a spark. Adams-Woods was our best defender in the game so you have to manage that offense-defense tradeoff, but you have to give Harvey more of an opportunity to make a difference.
At one point in the first half, Brannen had a lineup of Mike Saunders Jr., Keith Williams, Jeremiah Davenport, Tari Eason, and Mamoudou Diarra on the court. It’s clear that Brannen doesn’t have set rotations which can be attributed to the lack of a regular offseason and a second consecutive year with seven new faces on the team.
This may sound drastic, but I would seriously consider putting Vogt on the bench or at least decreasing his minutes to about 25-27 a game. He is a major defensive liability and he is not a good rebounder (only 1 board against Xavier). I would love to see a starting lineup of DeJulius, Adams-Woods, Williams, Davenport, and Ivanauskas. Vogt, Harvey, and Eason would be the first players off the bench and Vogt helps boost bench scoring. At this point, I’m out on Mamoudou Diarra for the rest of the season. I really thought he was turning things around in the second half of last season, but I was wrong. He’s still making the same mistakes he did two years ago.
The Bearcats chose the worst time to miss their free throws as well. Cincinnati went 10/15 from the line and missed all five of them in the last six minutes of the game as Xavier pulled away. Senior guard Keith Williams missed three of those free throws. Enough said.
The Bearcats return to action against a good Furman team at 5:00 pm on Wednesday at Fifth-Third Arena. Kenpom ranks Cincinnati 63rd while Furman is right behind them at 64th. We may have missed an opportunity against Xavier, but here’s another one against Furman. We just have to take advantage.