(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The Bearcats started their long-awaited season on Friday afternoon with a bizarre 107–77 win against the Savannah State Tigers.
I call it bizarre because this was unlike just about any game we’ve seen as Bearcat fans. I’ve checked the numbers on KenPom, and yesterday’s 92-possession mad dash was the most of the Mick Cronin era (yes, even more than the 4OT UConn marathon). The Bearcats took 86 shots yesterday. The most they took last season was 71, and that was in the crazy OT Marshall game. Even in the aforementioned UConn game in 2016, they took only 82 shots.
As I was saying, this game was unlike anything the Bearcats have experienced in at least a decade. Keep that in mind. Here’s what happened:
- The Bearcats can score. Again, 92 possessions will jack up the score of any competent offense, but the Bearcats also passed the eye test. Beyond simply scoring 107 points, they looked pretty darn good. Six players scored in double figures.
- These guys can play inside and out. While the team shot a pretty pedestrian 33% from outside, they shot 60% from inside the arc, which has to make you feel good about this team’s ability to withstand cold shooting nights. The Bearcats took 47 two-pointers, and only two players shot below 50% from inside: Nsoseme (1-for-3) and Brooks (1-for-3).
- Evans seems to be settling in. He seemed to struggle in the scrimmage and both exhibition games, so it was nice to see the junior turn in a nice game. He scored 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting while adding seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and two steals. He was KenPom’s MVP of the game.
- Gary is still Gary. The Bearcats are so fortunate to accompany all of this talent with a guy like Gary Clark who turns in 13 points and 11 rebounds and nobody even really notices. He’s the perfect glue guy.
- Justin Jenifer seems reborn. I had hoped this would happen, but frankly remained skeptical. If one game is any indication, Justin Jenifer is going to thrive at this pace. Kids like him with crazy handles tend to thrive on a quicker pace and more possessions in transition. In years past, Jenifer always had to slow to the pace of the offense that was built for Troy Caupain. With Broome in town, Jenifer looked like he was having tons of fun. He shot 6-for-12 (5-for-7 inside) and dished out five assists with just one turnover in 22 minutes. I’m very intrigued to watch him moving forward. If the Bearcats have two competent point guards it’s going to maximize their ability to succeed tenfold.
- Eliel Nsoseme is going to be a fan favorite if he can have these kinds of games on a semi-regular basis. The kid was playing his very first collegiate content and recorded eight rebounds in just 13 minutes. That’s comical. That alone will earn him favor with Cronin, but he’s also going to have to iron out his free throw shooting. He got himself to the line five times but made just one shot. Clean that up and he’ll earn rotation minutes all year.
- Cane Broome’s debut is what I expected. He flashed lots of potential and scored an impressive 17 points in 20 minutes while turning out four assists. He also turned the ball over six times in those 20 minutes, which will be reason enough for Mick to staple his shorts to the bench. In the end, it was Cane’s first game playing at this level and it came at a breakneck pace. I wouldn’t read too much into it (there’s a reason this is in the “highs” category), but he still need to keep the TOs under control.
- Trevor Moore impressed me. This I did not expect. I figured Trevor would be one of UC’s lesser contributors this year. While that’s still probably the case, he will steal time if he can play like he did on Friday. He played just 14 minutes but collected eight points on 3-for-5 shooting while also impressing me with his on-ball defense. The Bearcats have never had a “3-and-D” guy (someone whose role is shooting and defense), and I think Mick will end up loving him, especially in certain spots.
- Rebounding. The Bearcats had a +33 rebound margin. This is good. The Bearcats had 65 rebounds. This is a cartoon number. Since the start of the 2014–15 season, only one other major-conference team has recorded 65 rebounds in a game (overtime or otherwise). It was Oregon. They were playing Savannah State.
- Turnovers. The whole team should’ve played a little bit tighter, but 20 turnovers against a team that plays at that tempo isn’t really that weird. I looked up how many major-conference teams matched UC’s 86 shots last season. Only three did, and two of those games were against Savannah State. In each of those two SSU games, their opponent turned it over 15 times. It kind just happens. I’d have liked to see that turnover mark in the 12–15 range for this game, but it was also a season opener. They’re still rusty.
- Free throws. The Bearcats shot 12-for-24 at the line, a number that will cost them games this season if it continues. Fortunately, I don’t think it will. The Bearcats turned the ship around last year and ended up being pretty decent in conference play. This team should, in theory, improve on that.
I don’t really have much more to say about this one, and I encourage everyone to hesitate before drawing any conclusions, positive or negative, from this game. This was barely real basketball. Trust the eye test on a possession-by-possession basis, but don’t expect Cane Broome to turn it over six times every 20 minutes and don’t expect him to hit five threes in 20 minutes either. It’s a long road, and the Bearcats did what they had to in Game 1.