(David Butler II | USA TODAY Sports)
Hello. I have an important message. The Connecticut Huskies lost to the Cincinnati Bearcats twice this season — by a combined 34 points. Although that statement doesn’t mean as much after UConn wound up being a sub-.500 team, it’s still a pretty neat thing to type. Here’s another thing that’s fun to type: The Huskies haven’t held a lead over the Bearcats this season. Not for one second in any of the 80 minutes the two have played against each other. UConn is bad. Cincinnati is pretty good.
Now that we have that bit of housekeeping out of the way, here’s what happened Sunday:
- The Bearcats are back. Not that they ever truly went anywhere, but two staples of the Mick Cronin philosophy have returned in full strength in the last two games: Defense and rebounding. The Bearcats held UCF to just 53 points in a loss before surrendering just 47 to Houston and UConn. In the last two games, UC’s total rebound margin is +25. This year’s team is better than any Mick has had, but we’ve also seen these two fundamental elements of Mick’s style regress a bit, especially as the season wore on. Not anymore. The Bearcats are playing their trademark style with some explosive offensive potential mixed in, and it’s fantastic.
- Gary Clark is a problem. He had a double-double in the first half, which is not something you typically see, especially in a road game and especially in the waning moments of a long regular season. He continues to feast on the Huskies. He struggled in his first career game against UConn as a freshman. In the seven games since: 13.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. He’s doing it while shooting just about 50%. Random fact: Sunday’s game was Gary’s first career matchup against the Huskies in which he didn’t record an assist or block. Slacker.
- Amida Brimah still can’t guard Gary.
- Jarron Cumberland is great. He scored 15 points. He took good shots. He made the good shots. He attacked the basket. He got to the line. He made his free throws. The sky is blue. Water is wet.
- The Bearcats bottled Jalen Adams. He’s typically a scoring, assisting machine. On Sunday he dished out four assists (below his season average) and scored just four points (well below his season average). He also didn’t hit any 75-foot buzzer beaters, which is always good to see.
- The starters got some rest. Some of this was out of necessity due to foul trouble and some of this was due to the fact that the Bearcats held a commanding lead for the entirety of the second half. Regardless, I’m sure Mick entered this game with the realization that his team just needed to win and escape in tact. The only player to notch 30 minutes of playing time was Jacob Evans, who’s basically an Energizer bunny anyway. Troy played 28, Gary played 25, Kevin played 22, and Kyle played just 21. These guys should be very fresh when the AAC Tournament arrives.
- Mick got angry. Since his health scare a couple years back, you don’t see an enraged Mick Cronin courtside very often. On Sunday, he got worked up pretty good with the Bearcats leading by 16 points. This tells me one thing: It’s March and he’s turning it up. Foot on the gas. Let’s roll.
- Way too many three-pointers. More than the three-point attempts themselves (there were 26 of them) is the fact that many of them stemmed from UConn switching to a zone defense. I understand that shooting over the zone is actually a pretty smart plan of attack, but it can’t be your only plan of attack. The Bearcats have seemed discombobulated by zone looks at times this season, especially in unfamiliar environments. When the postseason comes, a team will inevitably break it out against them. Their retort cannot be to begin heaving outside shots. Chances are they won’t make enough of them to sustain themselves and it will be a quick tournament exit. It’s a small nit-pick, and probably not as important as I’m making it seem here, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
With the regular season officially in the rearview, the (27–4!) Cincinnati Bearcats have a nice break before their AAC Tourney opener on Friday night against the winner of Tulsa-Tulane. While Tulsa should win that matchup, it’s important to remember the reason they’re even facing Tulane is because they just lost to them. Boy, it would be nice to face the Green Wave and essentially receive a double-bye before likely matchups against Houston and SMU.
March Madness is officially here. We made it. Just keep winning.