The easy part is over. I guess that’s the bad news. The good news is that the Bearcats passed the warm-up phase with flying colors, hitting 7–0, grinding to #11 in the AP Poll and #8 in KenPom while crushing teams to the tune of a 30.6 scoring margin — second best in America.
All of that changes on Saturday. Now isn’t the time to look ahead though, so here’s what happened in the final chapter of UC’s cupcake portion of the schedule:
This team is just effortless. I think that’s my biggest takeaway after this one. I was kind of disappointed with how pedestrian the Bearcats looked against a putrid team in the first half on Monday, and all of the sudden I check the scoreboard at halftime and they’re up 46–26. I understand this is largely because of the opponent, but UC teams in years past would not have sleepwalked to a 46-point have and a 20-point lead.
The block party was real. Everyone loves a game where the Bearcats rack up tons of great dunks, and so do I. But Mick Cronin has brainwashed me to root for blood on the defensive end, so I loved how Monday devolved into the Bearcats blocking every shot. They had “only” nine blocks, but three or four fantastic ones occurred in a short window, making UC seem otherworldly. Even Jacob Evans got in on the party, notching a career-best four swats. It was all very fun.
Gary Clark is a problem. He played 23 minutes and tallied 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals, and zero turnovers. He was on another level and even managed to record what is probably a Top 3 Gary Clark play for me with his incredible closeout block.
Jacob was great. I’m excited to see how Jake looks against tougher competition, because he seems to be floating through this cupcake schedule. He hasn’t looked bad at any point, but he’s not exactly burying teams like we might have expected. On Monday he had his best game of the season, playing just 19 minutes but scoring 12 points to go with four blocks, three assists, and two steals. Evans is an underrated stat sheet stuffer, and these numbers are good to see. His efficiency (5-for-8 shooting) and ability to do a bit of everything are what makes him so great. Next we just need that killer instinct to come out.
The free throw shooting is hanging in there. The team shot 73%. If they do that every game this year they’d be very difficult to beat.
Mamoudou Diarra is back. He wasn’t able to travel with the team to the Caymans because it was an international trip, so Monday’s game was his first action since Coppin State on November 16th. On the podcast earlier this season, I said that Diarra should probably redshirt but that I was selfishly hoping he’d play so we got some exciting minutes from him. Monday was exactly what I had in mind. It doesn’t jump off the stat sheet, but Diarra snatched an inbounds pass on one possession and had an athletic block on the next. It’s fun when the team is deep enough that you can stick a kid like Diarra in there and just watch him for a few minutes while you’re up 40 points. It’s a nice subplot that I hope can continue throughout the season.
These freshmen are something else. Keith Williams had eight points, two rebounds, and two assists on 3-for-5 shooting. Trevor Moore had 11 points, three rebounds, and two steals in 15 minutes. These kids are good. I can’t even wrap my head around where they’ll be as upperclassmen if they continue to develop.
Jarron Cumberland was quiet, Cane Broome struggled a bit shooting, and UC’s normally fantastic rebounding wasn’t great, but I’m not worried about any of that. The ‘Cats won by 32 and we’ve got bigger fish to fry this week.