(Photo by Matt Allaire)
That’s more like it. After a somewhat underwhelming opener against the Savannah State Tigers, the Bearcats bounced back on Monday night with something that felt much more indicative of what this team is capable of. The Bearcats have played two games, and the one that resembles their future schedule most closely is the one in which they shined. Here’s what happened:
The offense uncorked 1.32 points per possession, which is quite good. The Bearcats played at a faster pace than they did in the vast majority of last year’s games, yet were able to maintain their efficiency, shooting an impressive 52% on 64 attempts. They also shot 9-for-21 from outside, which is both a higher percentage than the opener (43% vs 33%) but also a number of attempts Mick will be much happier with. This team is too talented to turn into a three-point shooting team.
The Bearcats scored in triple digits for the second straight game. This is the first time they’ve scored 100 in back-to-back games since 2011–12. Per Twitter, this is the first time they’ve done that in the first two games of a season since 1954. No Cincinnati team has ever done it in the first three games, so we have something to follow on Thursday now.
The Bearcats had their worst offensive half of basketball in the first half, and it was 46 points. Let’s see how long they can make that last.
The defense held Western Carolina to .662 points per possession, which is also quite good. The opener against Savannah State was deceiving here. Yes, a bottom-of-the-barrel KenPom team scored 77 points on the mighty Cincinnati defense, which doesn’t look good. (Xavier fans, who are known to be far stupider than the average fan, were all over this.) The key was that Savannah State scored those 77 points on 92 possessions, good for just .837 points per possession, which is not a great number if you’re Savannah State. The Bearcats turned that defense up a notch on Monday and played much better against a team playing a normal offense at a normal pace.
The passing was excellent. The Bearcats had 24 assists on 33 baskets, and that ratio was even better before garbage time set in.
Cane Broome and Kyle Washington thrived off the bench. Mick, as he sometimes does, used an early-season cupcake game to send a bit of a message to two guys he felt played poorly in the season opener on Friday. He mentioned Cane’s number of turnovers (as well as Justin’s lack of them) and Kyle’s frustrating habit of getting a one-track scoring mind and letting the rest of his game slip because of it. That’s why we saw the lineup change. Both players responded to it. Cane played just 20 minutes but gave the Bearcats 15 points, four assists, and three steals in 20 minutes without a single turnover. Mick has to be thrilled with that. Kyle, on the other hand, delivered 14 points, six rebounds, and two blocks. He did have three turnovers, but they seemed to come as a result of aggressively trying to move the ball, rather than as a result of mental lapses.
Tre Scott was magnificent. I’ve been seeing a lot of people down on Tre for whatever reason, but I think Monday’s game was a perfect example of the kind of glue guy he can be. He played just 18 minutes but cranked out six points, six rebounds, and six assists. I will cut off an arm to get that stat line from him every night this year. He still needs to cut down on mistakes like turnovers and missed free throws, but if he can do a bit of everything like he did on Monday, even Mick will live with a certain amount of those errors.
Jarron Cumberland is cooking. He shot 4-for-6 from outside and scored 20 points. He might mess around and lead the Bearcats in scoring this season.
Keith Williams just scores. He’s played two games at the college level and scored in double figures in each. By my research, the last Bearcat freshman to do so was Sean Kilpatrick in 2010. SK did it as a redshirt freshman and he played 47 total minutes in those two games. Williams just did it as a true freshman and he played just 34 total minutes. The craziest part is that he’s doing it efficiently. He’s 0-for-6 from outside and still shooting 53% through these first two games. Unreal for someone fresh out of high school.
The free throw shooting is back. The Bearcats shot 12-for-24 from the line in their opener and everyone lost their minds. On Monday night, they shot 27-for-34, good for 79%. This team was up-and-down last season, but I expect them to be better this year. Not 79% better, but not bad.
I’m starting the Mamoudou Diarra fan club. I’ve talked about him both on this blog and on the podcast and everything has been couched with the fact that he’s not going to be able to do much until at least next season. On Monday, Mick gave him some action and suddenly he’s a sturdy rotation player. He played 12 minutes and gave Cincinnati nine points, six rebounds, and a block without a turnover. Most importantly for my fan club’s sake, he did it while being generally fun and exciting. I have no idea what to expect from him now, and I have a feeling his freshman year will be marked by some up-and-down performances, but he showed me more on Monday night than I expected to see for another year, so I’m firing up the bandwagon early. This hype train is going to gain and lose steam throughout the season, but I’ll take whatever I can get, because I didn’t even expect to be driving this locomotive until next year.
The Jackson Bart era is upon us, and we’ve declared it a #BartyParty.
The Bearcats played a nearly perfect game. I don’t want to dig for a downside. We all know once the tough games start that I’ll have plenty of reason to complain and find fault. I’m not doing it after a 51-point win.