(Tim Heitman | USA TODAY Sports)
The South Florida Bulls are absolute garbage. A couple weeks ago we saw them get pasted by the Bearcats in a 41-point blowout loss in Clifton. On Wednesday, a 14-point shortcoming was even further proof.
The Bearcats never play well in Tampa, so 68 points and a 14-point margin of victory says a lot. In 2016, UC narrowly escaped with a win, holding on for a 54–51 victory. In 2014, in the midst of the dominating January run, the final was just 61–54 in favor of UC. The 2012 Sweet Sixteen team lost in Tampa by a score of 46–45, which is just astounding. Suffice it to say that Wednesday night was an obliteration by UC-USF standards.
Pretty or not, the Bearcats took care of the most important thing by winning the game. Here’s what happened:
- Kevin Johnson continues to blossom. I introduced this as a potential narrative after the SMU loss, and I think we may see it continue. The impending finish line has a weird way of throwing some players into gear. Yancy was suddenly an all-league talent when the 2012 Big East Tournament hit. KJ may not hit that ceiling, but he’s playing the best basketball of his career. He set the tempo on Wednesday, making UC’s first basket and pacing them with 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go with three steals. He’s poured in 27 total points in his last two games, the most in any back-to-back AAC games in his career, even though this is by far the best offensive team he’s played on. Not only do I not see this dropping off completely, but I think we may see it improve. No, I don’t think we’ll see him average 15 points the rest of the way. But I can easily envision a scenario in which we get into the last week of the season and into the conference tournament and Kevin blows up with a 20-point game or a few clutch, game saving shots. He’s in his zone.
- Gary Clark was a wrecking ball. The kid only played 25 minutes and finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks. That’s just incredible.
- Kyle Washington is settling in. I’d still like some better efficiency, but he’s playing pretty well from a production standpoint. On Wednesday, he finished with 14 points and nine rebounds to go with a pair of blocks. He also continued this team’s weird roller coaster free throw habits by shooting 5-for-6. This is not a good free throw shooting team, but they do a fantastic job pretending like it sometimes.
- Jacob Evans has returned. After that weird UConn performance that saw Evans score zero points, JE3 got himself back in line. He followed with a stat stuffer game vs UCF (11 points, four rebounds, six assists, four steals, and two blocks), 15 points and five assists at SMU, and 10 points and three assists Wednesday at South Florida. The Bearcats will need more than 10 from him, but I can’t knock a double-digit game on the road, especially when some shots just weren’t falling.
- The team forced 20 turnovers. That’s a lot of turnovers. Here’s a stat for you: Since the start of the 2010–11 season, the Bearcats have forced 20 or more turnovers against just two conference opponents. They did it to Rutgers in 2013 and they’ve done it to South Florida three times in their last three games. That’s how bad USF is. They’re averaging 20.3 turnovers in their last four meetings with Cincinnati.
- The team was sleepy. I would’ve liked a resounding, blowout win following up the SMU loss. To be fair, this is a building where the Bearcats have struggled, and it can be difficult to get going with an empty crowd. The lead swelled to 24 at one point. I just would’ve liked to see a 25-point win to put my nerves at ease. I still hope there isn’t a slump looming. The Bearcats can’t really afford to lose another regular season game.
- Troy Caupain is still in some weird funk. In his last two games, he has 10 total points on 3-for-14 shooting. I still can’t fathom his career ending like this, so hopefully this is one last dry spell before a hot streak into March. He’s picking a rough time to go cold offensively, because he’s making his climb up the UC scoring list. He’s currently at 1,201 career points, good for #30 on the all-time list behind LaZelle Durden. Let’s say this team plays 10 more games. Troy, at his current season average of 10 points per game, would finish at #24 — just ahead of Dion Dixon and Kenyon Martin. If he finishes strong and averages 12 points per game in that stretch, he can hit the Top 20, surpassing players like Leonard Stokes and Cashmere Wright.
South Florida is so bad, and UC has generally played so poorly in their building, that it seems hard to glean too much from this game. We’ll learn a lot more about this team in their next two matchups — at home against Tulsa and Memphis.
We’re heading into the final stretch. There are just five games left in the regular season, and all are against solid teams. First the Golden Hurricane and Tigers, then a road game against a tricky Central Florida team. In March, third-place Houston comes to town before the Bearcats close the season at UConn, which won’t be easy.
There are no more breaks left. Just keep winning.