Bearcats basketball season inched closer on Saturday afternoon with the annual Red & Black Scrimmage. It’s hard to gather too much from a scrimmage, but it works well for fans wanting to get an early peek at new guys. I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible and avoid rambling about a team I’ve been excited to write about. Here are the 14 biggest things I saw:
- Mick Cronin has his starting lineup picked, and it’s exactly what you thought it would be. The red team featured Caupain, Johnson, Tobler, Clark, and Washington. If Evans were playing, it’s clear he would’ve joined the red squad, completing the starting five. Mick wanted the starters to continue to build chemistry, and they did so in a 68–60 win over the black team, which consisted of reserves.
- Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland sat out. Judging by the eye test, Evans was sitting as more of a precautionary measure. He seemed to be moving around fine. Cumberland, on the other hand, was noticeably hobbled. I’m not a doctor, and I haven’t heard anything about the details of his injury, but I hope he’ll be ready to go for the opener against Brown in 19 days.
- Cane Broome is gonna be good… next season. It’s a shame we’ll have to wait while he sits for a year under NCAA transfer rules. He was the star of the scrimmage, at least based on reactions of fans seated near me. He’s not very big, but he’s incredibly crafty. His instincts are ready for major college basketball. He had no trouble getting looks at the rim, and he reminds me of Nick Van Exel. That being said, I think the year off will do him a lot of good. Despite those good looks, he had trouble finishing, shooting just 6-for-15. He got a shot obliterated by Gary Clark at one point. He looked a step slow in the second half and his outside shots started coming up short, both signs that his legs were wearing out. Mick always talks about the benefits of having a full year of practice and conditioning, and Broome should be a huge contributor after he gets that.
- Kyle Washington looks like everything we hoped he’d be. For as comfortable and tenacious as Octavius Ellis was on the defensive end, he always looked timid offensively. Washington will not have that issue. If anything, he’ll need to slow himself down. He was fully capable when he collected himself, so he’ll need to force himself to do that rather than throw up running teardrops in the lane. The kid is also in phenomenal shape. To top it off, he took four outside shots and made two. If he can hit a couple of those each game, it will do wonders for a UC offense that could benefit from spreading the floor and unclogging the paint, something they’d much rather do on defense. Fouls were a problem for Washington on Saturday, and Bearcat fans better pray that it won’t continue when the games start to matter. As good as Washington is (and as poor as UC’s front court depth is) the Bearcats can’t afford to have him sitting with foul trouble.
- Troy Caupain is solid. You don’t want a proven senior to be noticeable in a scrimmage, and Troy wasn’t. He quietly poured in 19 points and nine rebounds, but it was his shooting that looked the most promising. He was 3-for-4 from outside and 6-for-6 at the line. He’ll need to keep those numbers sharp if he wants to maximize scoring potential and avoid the bouts of inconsistency he battled last season. If he can do that, he’s my AAC Player of the Year frontrunner.
- Gary Clark is (still) a problem. Even in a scrimmage, he had a Gary Clark game, turning in seven points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and a pair of blocks. He had a few effortless tip-ins that got me excited, and his passing really impressed me. There was one particular cross-court pass that set up a Troy Caupain three-pointer that was a work of art. The only thing I was slightly disappointed by was the 0-for-2 mark from outside. Like I said, it’s just a scrimmage, but I hope he can consistently make that shot this season when opponents give it to him.
- Kevin Johnson is ripped. He joins Kyle Washington in the muscles club. On the floor, he didn’t do a ton worth mentioning. He shot just 3-for-9, but did got 2-for-4 from the three-point line to go with four assists. I’m glad to see he’s in tip-top shape, because the Bearcats will need to ride him this season. His defensive abilities are a huge asset, and he’ll be an extremely valuable piece, even without huge contributions on offense. He’s sort of the consummate Bearcat.
- Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks can soar. Coming in, we heard lots about their athleticism and verticality, and they showed it off. They each had impressive blocks and put-back dunks. Scott’s flaw was shooting, as he finished 6-for-14, including 0-for-3 from behind the arc. When he assumes his limited role during the season, he’ll need to be more efficient than that. I hope he doesn’t turn into Underclassman Justin Jackson 2.0 by trying to be an outside shooter. Brooks’ flaw was fouling. While he was the more adept rebounder on Saturday, he racked up five fouls. As I mentioned with Washington, we don’t have enough big men to afford those kinds of mistakes.
- Justin Jenifer is coming along. His ugly jumper is starting to look a bit less ugly, and he picked up 15 points to go with four assists. Another year behind veteran Caupain will do him some good before he has to start contributing on his own.
- Quadri Moore is coming along, too. He still doesn’t look totally comfortable in his own skin, but he’s leaps and bounds ahead of where he was at this time last year. He appears to be in great shape, and his shot looked better, too. He had the mid-range shot going and was sharp on the boards, grabbing eight rebounds. With depth being UC’s only real issue, it would be great if he could efficiently score a few points while stretching the defense and soaking up some minutes while Gary Clark gets a rest.
- The starters looked good from behind the arc. The red team finished 9-for-18 from deep on the afternoon, which is very promising. I don’t want to turn into a heavy three-point shooting team, but you have to score points from there. Seeing guys like Caupain, Johnson, and Washington find their stroke is really exciting, especially considering the guys who sat out (Evans and Cumberland) are particularly strong in that area. Even Zack Tobler got in on the action, finishing 2-for-3 from outside. This team should be able to hit shots.
- Free throw shooting was phenomenal. The teams shot a combined 19-for-21. It’s a joy to see, and I hope it’s for real. For an offense that traditionally struggles to score points, hitting the free ones makes a huge difference. Besides, it’s absolutely maddening to watch when they struggle at the line. On those 21 tries, the only two misses were from Clark and Washington. You’re gonna get those some of those with big men. I was very pleased.
- Mick Cronin has the basketball alumni support.A laundry list of former players were in attendance, most notably guys like Kenyon Martin and Corie Blount. I hope we see more of them throughout the season, because Kenyon’s visit last year seemed to spark something in the players, especially Clark.
- The fans are ready.The crowd was outstanding, especially considering this wasn't supposed to be anything with Midnight Madness-level hype. We were basically looking in on a practice, and the fans were plenty excited. The crowd was better than last year, and packed the east side of the arena. After a while, fans had to be seated in the baseline sections, which was unexpected and good to see.
(If you want a video recap, Bearcats TV has you covered as always.)
I don’t want to draw any huge conclusions after watching less than 40 minutes of pretend basketball, but there was plenty to get excited about for fans who made the trip to Fifth Third Arena on Saturday. I’m more ready than ever to get the season fired up, and I think this team has enough talent to do something substantial.