Cincinnati Bearcats followed up a wild and crazy month of February, with an emotional 48 hours. Cincinnati took the court in Houston a little more than 24 hours after learning about the death of the father of coach John Brannen. Thoughts and prayers from myself and the entire Down the Drive staff to the Brannen family.
Coach and his team showed some serious toughness on Sunday. Not necessarily the type of toughness you usually see from Bearcats basketball, but more about mental toughness and the ability to grind and fight through adversity. This whole season has been about adversity. Cincinnati has some bad losses, has dealt with transfers before the season and during the season, injuries throughout, and an NCAA-record number of overtime games and an insane amount of close games.
This team has learned to play through adversity. And Sunday was no different. The first half was back-and-forth and Cincinnati led 30-25 with a few minutes to go in the first half. But a Houston surge gave the Cougars a 38-31 halftime lead, a lead they would eventually extend 45-35, as part of a 20-3 run over 10 minutes of game time.
Cincinnati would go on to lose 65-55, dropping them to 18-10 and 11-5 in conference play. The 10 regular season losses are the most since 2013 and the 5 conference losses are the most since 2016.
Two big issues plagued Cincinnati throughout this game
Dominated on the glass
I talked about toughness in the beginning and I am proud of the way that this team continues to battle mentally. But physically, was another story. Houston grabbed 21 offensive rebounds (42 rebounds overall) and finished the first half with 14. The extra possessions is why the shot differential gap is massive - Houston took 66 shots and Cincinnati only took 43.
Houston shot 36% and at one point, the Bearcats percentage was 10 points higher, but Houston just kept putting up shot-after-shot until it finally went in. The defensive execution was extremely poor in the first half and in the beginning of the second half.
At about the 14 minute mark of the second half, the Bearcats defense finally seemed comfortable and they settled down. Offensive rebounds were limited as Houston went one-and-done and several possessions. The problem, became that Cincinnati’s offense completely stalled.
This was not Jarron Cumberland’s best game as he shot just 1 of 7 from the floor and 1 of 5 from three. He had some nice passes, but finished with just 4 assists as most of his best passes came on a missed shot.
What about the positives?
There were positives! There always are.
Trevon Scott continue his scorching hot run with another double-double, 17 points and 11 rebounds. He did some big shots but ultimately a lack of production around him doomed the Bearcats offense.
Mamoudou Diarra was a major positive off the bench. He played 14 minutes and showed a lot of heart and hustle. He finishes with 5 points, including a three pointer and 1 awesome block. His defense was good and he brought energy off the bench at a time when the Bearcats needed it.
What’s next is deep breaths and prayers from Bearcats fans. As of Sunday night, Cincinnati is still among the top 68 teams in ESPN Joe Lunardi’s bracket. But that is something that will likely go back-and-forth over the next couple of weeks.
Cincinnati is at South Florida on Tuesday and hosts Temple on Saturday in the final home game for Cumberland and Scott. After that, it’s off to Forth Worth for the AAC Tournament.
Cincinnati MUST win both games this week. An NCAA at-large bid is possible, but won’t be without winning both games. Additionally, it would help to make a deep run in the AAC Tournament (getting to the Finals could help secure the bid).
Or, you know, Cincinnati could just do what they have done each of the last two seasons and win the Tournament, guaranteeing their bid.
More to come on why they should be considered the favorites and why Cincinnati will see Houston for a third time.