That ending kinda felt like last year’s NCAA Tournament game, huh?
The Cincinnati Bearcats lost again. For the first time this season, it felt absolutely gut-wrenching. That was a 2015–16 throwback of the highest order, and I think it may have triggered some PTSD on my end.
If there’s a good angle on this whole thing, it’s that the Knights somehow got the perfect storm they needed to win this game. If the Bearcats had played .01% better, or gotten one more call, or gotten a dunk to fall, this would be a much different post than the one you’re about to read.
Before Thursday’s Senior Night contest against the Cougars, we need to digest what just happened, how devastating it truly was, and what it tells us about this team moving forward.
What Went Wrong?
- Too little, too late. Since I won’t be forming a list of positives from Sunday’s game, I’ll at least start with one of the few good things that happened. Once UC had successfully buried itself, they had no business winning. They were flat on the mat, willing to concede victory, when suddenly they came alive and played well enough to send the game to overtime. Unfortunately, Tre Scott bungled the dunk and the Bearcats lost a game they deserved to lose. It’s encouraging that — like in the Tulsa game — the Bearcats can at least recognize when their chances are fading and sculpt a ferocious comeback. A Banyard jumper with 11:55 remaining pushed the lead to 11. By the time the Bearcats called their final timeout with 1:06 remaining, the lead was just two points. The ‘Cats manufactured an 11–2 run over 10:49. Holding a good team (one that had been kicking your ass, no less) to two points in nearly 11 minutes is impressive. It would’ve been fantastic if the Bearcats could’ve done that to open the half or combined it with some offense.
- Troy Caupain was abysmal. I think I’m officially worried about Troy. I don’t want to speculate about reasons he’s disappeared for the last month, but it’s starting to become an issue. In the nine games since the Crosstown Shootout, Caupain is shooting 30% from the field and 24% from outside. Both of those figures are a full 10% below his career averages. We’re approaching the finish line of his career, and instead of hitting his stride, he’s in the worst slump of his tenure in Cincinnati. On Sunday, he was a major contributing factor in the loss. Not only did he shoot 1-for-9 from the field, but he shot 1-for-6 from outside — where I don’t think he took a single contested shot. UCF was happy to leave him open and he continually missed. To make matters worse, his four turnovers, including a dagger late, tied the most in a conference game in his Bearcats career. Troy still has time to come back to life and salvage the final stretch of his tenure, but he’s officially out of time. The Bearcats need to make a run and they desperately need his help to do it.
- Kyle Washington continues to be frustrating. The team’s leading scorer shot 3-for-15 and didn’t record a block, a steal, or an assist. I think that kind of speaks for itself.
- I’m not sure what Mick Cronin was thinking. Gary Clark got rung up on two fouls in 15 seconds and was yanked three minutes into the game. This is because there’s an unwritten rule in the college basketball cosmos that state any player with two fouls must sit for the remainder of the half while their team languishes without them. Sunday’s game could’ve really used a guy who could bang down low while also being able to hit the open three-pointers when they came. Gary Clark is that guy, but he played just 17 minutes because he picked up ticky-tack fouls early. Here’s a stat: Gary has played 96 games in his UC career and has never fouled out. Rather than bench him for 17 first half minutes, pull him aside and say “Hey kid, we’re really gonna need you today. You’re a veteran. Play smart.” Later, on the game’s pivotal play, Gary was on the bench in favor of Tre Scott, who faltered. I don’t know why this decision was made, and coaching is my least favorite thing to critique. From my perspective, Gary was mishandled against UCF and it contributed to the loss.
- The officiating was putrid. This is one of those things you can’t help. Those who have been following me long enough know that I don’t complain about refs. The only thing worse than losing a close game is losing it and then hearing my fellow fans work up a stupid conspiracy theory about the officials. That being said, Sunday’s game was abysmal. The Bearcats entered the game #10 in the country in fouling, getting rung up just 15.5 times per game. The refs in Orlando got the Bearcats 21 times. The ‘Cats have committed more fouls against a conference team just twice in the last three seasons.
What Does It Mean?
On the surface, not much. I know you’re shocked to hear this take from Mr. Optimistic, but it’s the truth. This team losing one game in which they didn’t get a single break does not change their talent or potential. Remember when they bombarded Memphis for 51 points in the first half and looked like Final Four material? That was just a few days ago. The AP Poll will likely punish us fairly harshly in a few minutes, but I’m already past that. My eyes are on March, and the Bearcats have a clear path to a 4-seed, which has been my goal all season.
The UCF game presented a unique challenge. Going forward, the Bearcats will not face a 7'6" player positioned at the back of a zone. They will not do so in a road environment. They will not see the kind of officiating they saw on Sunday. They will not do it all without help from Troy and Gary. They will not miss a game-saving dunk. Sunday was a perfect storm that won’t be duplicated. For that reason, I’m setting a limit on how much I’m willing to freak out over this. The Bearcats are still okay.
Below the surface, there are some troubling trends.
First, The Bearcats cannot afford to play with the ghost of Troy Caupain any longer. They’re 7–2 since he started his post-Shootout slump, meaning half of their losses this season have come since he started to truly flounder. That’s not a coincidence. The Bearcats need their leader to contribute because it seems like his performance has a tendency to seep into the rest of the team.
Second, the veterans as a whole have to be better. Jarron Cumberland has been fantastic, but he shouldn’t be outshining Troy like this. Since the Shootout, Cumberland is outscoring Troy by 13 points, despite a one-game suspension and the fact that, you know, he’s a bench player. Meanwhile, Kyle Washington needs to be more efficient. He’s a junior, but his redshirt year while he transferred from NC State means he’s as old as the seniors. He’s a veteran. 3-for-15 is unacceptable, especially from a big man who should be scoring more efficiently as he plays close to the basket. If you consider 40% shooting as the minimum from an acceptable performance like I tend to, you may be interested in Kyle’s game log. Five times this season he’s shot below 40%, and UC has lost three of those games. We don’t need 20 points from Kyle. We just need him to be smart with his scoring chances.
I said this following the loss to SMU and I’ll say it again: I don’t blame people for freaking out, but this team still has the same potential we’ve seen all season. If they take care of their business and avoid Sunday’s kind of outlandish bad luck, they’ll be just fine.
Senior Day is next. Come say goodbye to Troy, Kevin, and Zack.
There are two games left before the postseason. Just keep winning.