Following some tough early season losses, a 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the Cincinnati Bearcats seemed like a long shot. An early January loss to Tulane dropped the Bearcats to 8-6 and there wasn’t much reason for optimism at the time. There was unrest in the fanbase, questions about the leadership and the coaching staff and patience had grown thin for many.
Fast forward one month later, Cincinnati finds themselves in sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference with an 8-2 AAC record and a 5 game winning streak.
Cincinnati went into Charles Koch Arena on Thursday night and beat Wichita State 80-79. It was their 5th consecutive win over Wichita State, dating back to the 2018 regular season finale, when the Bearcats won on the road to clinch the outright AAC title. They have won 3 in a row on the road at Wichita State
Cincinnati could have lost Thursday night at Wichita State and still found their way into the tournament. The margin of error is extremely small, but there is a margin. But who needs errors when you can just win every game, right?
Winning every game is certainly a good option, when you have Jarron Cumberland and are coached by John Brannen.
Can you guard Jarron ? No I don’t think so!— Mamoudou Diarra (@the_dou20) February 7, 2020
Here are 18 observations and thoughts from Thursday’s dramatic victory
- This was the second straight game that Cincinnati relied on the opponent missing a tough shot (and their own defense) at the buzzer to hang on.
- Entering the game, Wichita State allowed 63.2 ppg (38th in the country). Cincinnati scored 80 points, becoming the first team to do so in regulation against Wichita this season.
- It’s the 8th time this season Cincinnati has scored 80 or more points and the third time in conference play (2nd on road). How nice is it to score 80 points?
- Cincinnati improves to 3-4 in true road games, after starting the season 0-3.
- Bearcats shot 55% from the floor as a team.
- Jarron Cumberland is playing at another level. He is playing like the man who won Conference Player of the Year in 2019. Like a man who wants to play in the NBA. Like a man who wants his college career to end late in March. He looks like one of the best players in all of college basketball right now, with the way he is playing.
- Jarron is averaging 19 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg in conference play and finished Thursday night with 24 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds.
- Jarron and John Brannen both said after the game that the final play was executed perfectly - and it was the absolute right play. It’s what I was screaming from the couch. Give the ball to Jarron, get out of his way. Let Jarron drive and either hit the shot, draw contact, or do both and both is what happened. He made the layup and hit the free throw.
- Jarron hit 5-6 free throws, following Saturday night’s disaster (hit 5-12 FT vs Houston).
- Speaking of disaster, in the final 2 minutes, the Bearcats had an offensive stretch where Jarron and Jaevin Cumberland both chucked deep threes really early in the possessions. They may have been good looks, but with 20+ seconds on the shot clock, at the time where they should be running clock, it was poor decision making. The problem was, the poor shots led to poor defense and allowed Wichita State to sneak back into the game and even take the lead in the final 10 seconds.
- As good as Jarron has played, Trevon Scott also looks like a guy who knows his career is winding down and is playing at an extremely high level. Scott had 9 points and 11 rebounds and has exactly 11 rebounds in 4 of the last 5 games.
- Keith Williams hit 7 of 11 shots, very efficient game for him, and scored 17 points.
- How about this - Mamoudou Diarra hit his second three pointer of the season and the fourth of his career.
- Diarra played amazing. I am sorry for being critical of him early in the season. He looked lost and it seemed like playing at a lower level might make the most sense for him to finish his career. But Brannen never gave up on him and Diarra has worked extremely hard. Over the last few weeks, he has been extremely productive off the bench, providing valuable minutes behind Chris Vogt and continues to improve defensively and rebounding.
- Vogt was in foul trouble early in the first half, which opened the door for Diarra to get extended minutes.
- Last thought on Diarra - he reminds me a little bit of Justin Jackson. High motor, never gives up, works harder than anyone to get rebounds and defensively, despite not being the most talented player. I am excited to watch his continued progression this season and into his senior year next season.
- Beating Wichita State gives Cincinnati their first quad 1 victory of the season (Q1 wins = beating team on road with 1-75 NET rank).
- Wichita State has lost 9 games at home since 2013-14. Bearcats are responsible for 3 of those losses.
Around the AAC
Bearcats find themselves in first place, because Tulsa lost at home to UConn. Tulsa fell to 7-2 and also lost to Cincinnati earlier in the season.
Houston maintained their pace with the Bearcats, bouncing back from last Saturday’s heartbreak (for them, not us) and taking care of business against Tulane, winning 75-62.
UCF got a nice road win at ECU, 68-64.
On Wednesday night, Memphis beat Temple at home, 79-65.
For the last time ever, Cincinnati goes on the road to play UConn. UConn is Big East bound, so this could be the last meeting ever, or at least for a very long time, between these two schools.
I would call UConn a rival, but that’s disrespectful to the word rival. Cincinnati has won 8 in a row against the Huskies and 10 of 11 overall, 10 regular season wins in a row, 4 in a row on the road. I will certainly miss beating UConn twice a year every year.
Elsewhere in the AAC this weekend...
Wichita State travels to Houston on Sunday afternoon. It’s unlikely Wichita falls out of the top 75, meaning Cincinnati will maintain that Q1 win, so it would be nice to root for Houston. Teams ranked 1-30 in NET are considered quad 1 wins at home.
Other notable games - Tulsa @ UCF and SMU @ Temple.