Sunday afternoon was my first look at the Bearcats in action against another team, and I was floored. I think it’s abundantly clear that this team is special. For much of Mick Cronin’s tenure, we’ve gotten excited about the team blasting inferior opponents, only to see the offense fall back down to earth once the ‘Cats started playing real teams. Last season, things started to change. The Bearcats weren’t simply getting hot against bad teams, they looked different. This year, the change looks even more drastic. The Bearcats hung 101 points on hapless Embry-Riddle, and it wasn’t just a hot shooting day. The Bearcats look like a real offensive team.
- Jarron Cumberland was mowing people down. He finished with 27 points in just 26 minutes on 11-for-15 shooting, and that was after he started forcing things at the end and taking a few iffy shots. He was incredible, and it was making people — even those on a national level — turn their heads and wonder if he could be Cincinnati’s leading scorer this season. He might.
- Justin was dealing. Justin Jenifer finishing the game with nine assists in 19 minutes tells you all you need to know about how this game went. The Bearcats defense, at least in the first 15–18 minutes or so, was just as great as the offense. The ‘Cats were forcing live ball turnovers and grabbing rebounds before cranking the pace down the floor. It was magical. One of the best things to watch this season will be Jenifer and Broome in transition. We’re used to guards slowing it down to get into the half-court offense. Jenifer and Broome were on a dead sprint with their heads up, quickly evaluating if their best course of action is to feed one of their four teammates or cut to the basket. They each explored both of those outcomes on Sunday and it was wonderful.
- Broome is the real deal. He fits this team so well. The only remaining question will be how quickly he’s able to adjust to playing at this level. The skills are there. The instincts are there. The IQ is there. Let’s hope he hits his stride by December.
- The whole team is so effortless. Had you shown this scrimmage to a UC fan in 2012–13, they’d have fainted. As Bearcat fans, we’re used to playing stellar defense and hoping the one or two kids who can score will carry the whole team. This year’s group is practically cocky on the offensive end. We have freshman and sophomores casually tearing up defenses before laying in reverse layups — something we’ve previously only seen from the very best Bearcats. It’s going to be a great feeling when the starters struggle this season and the second unit gets a win. That’s going to happen.
- Cronin’s classic big men are great. This team is built so much deeper than previous Cronin teams that even the stereotypical bigs feel more put-together and confident than in the past. Nysier Brooks will be a heavy rotation guy this year, but he won’t be logging huge minutes most nights. In past years, I think he sees some time as a starter. Eliel Nsoseme is just a freshman, but you can see the natural instincts there. He hasn’t played a college game yet, but he already feels lightyears ahead of where previous Cronin fringe-rotation bigs like Nyarsuk were.
- Mamoudou Diarra is an absolute freak. He should redshirt. This team is incredibly deep and he’s not ready to contribute at a real level. That being said, I selfishly kind of want him to play this year. In my time as a Bearcat fan, I think the most athletic players I remember were guys like Dion Dixon, Deshaun Morman, and Shaq Thomas. Diarra outpaces them all. He’s a healthy 6’9” and floats around like an NBA player on the court. He carries himself like Kevin Durant, both in the way he dunks (unbelievably casually) and the way he shoots (like a giant catapult). Several people I’ve talked to think he has the highest ceiling of any Cronin player ever, and it’s hard to argue that point. He’s a year or two off, but this kid could be phenomenal.
- The defense actually looked pretty poor for stretches. I think this can largely be attributed to the fact that the Bearcats, at #12, are completely unenthused at the prospect of playing more than 20 minutes against a D2 team in a pretend game. That being said, I sure wish they’d sucked the life out of the Eagles for 40 minutes instead of 20. For now, it’s nothing to worry about.
- The chemistry is going to take a few games. There was one specific play in the second half where Broome and Evans were moving the ball much quicker than we’re used to. It was great. Eventually it hit Gary Clark, who was wide open at the elbow. He didn’t know what to do with it. This is probably going to happen over the first couple weeks until a few of these older guys, especially the bigs, get acclimated to playing at a quicker pace and moving the ball more purposefully.
- Kyle Washington needs to stay out of foul trouble. He got into trouble in both exhibition games. He’s a big factor on this team because the Bearcats are much less dynamic without a 6’9” shooter out there. Yes, the team is deeper than ever, but that doesn’t mean I want to give up Kyle for the final 15 minutes of the first half every night.
- Trevor Moore is going to be streaky. He took four shots on Sunday. All four were from outside the arc. He made one of them. He’s both a pure shooter and a bench player, so he needs to get to a place where he feels comfortable coming off the bench and making shots quickly. Mick Cronin has never had a player like this, and I expect Trevor’s youth will lead to a few frustrating games where he struggles to find his shot and finishes 0-for-8. It happens with all shooters. Fortunately for everyone, the offense isn’t going to lean on him at all. He can afford to shoot 1-for-4 every game this year.
We’ve finally made it. Real basketball starts on Friday and I think the entire fan base is chomping at the bit. If you’ve somehow missed my preseason content, read that here.
The party starts Friday. Strap in.