And we’re back!
After a brief Thanksgiving intermission, it’s time to talk basketball. The Bearcats hit Florida with two wins on their mind, and left having done just that, defeating George Mason on Friday and Ole Miss on Saturday.
When UC’s participation in this tournament was first announced, I don’t think many people raised an eyebrow. Headlining the event with George Mason, Baylor, and Ole Miss is not the worst thing in the world, but these teams are not exactly world beaters this year.
Cincinnati’s first opponent, George Mason, sits at #160 in KenPom today. Given the type of filler on the Bearcats’ schedule each November, this was actually a bit of a step up. I don’t think many were worried about a letdown, but this team did not seem to be standing on solid ground through four games like teams in the past have.
There were certainly moments—namely a Patriot run in the second half that cut the Bearcat lead to 47-38—but the Bearcats never seemed terribly in danger of falling. The straw stirring the drink was Cane Broome. Again, since those treacherous opening games, Broome has been largely dazzling. His 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting (and 7-for-8 at the line) were more than enough for Cincinnati in a 71-55 Bearcats victory. Broome did it all without making an outside shot, and I don’t know if that’s a positive or negative. His aggressiveness attacking the rim is hard to be upset about, but if Broome isn’t going to be an outside shooter for this team, who is?
Regardless, these are just nitpicks in an otherwise respectable win.
Saturday’s opponent, Ole Miss, clocks in at #76 on KenPom, easily Cincinnati’s best non-OSU opponent so far this season. If you’ve been watching the Bearcats for any period of time, you undoubtedly remember the last meeting with the Rebels, four years ago in the inaugural edition of this very tournament. That game—an unmitigated disaster—featured 5’10” Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody steamrolling an Octavius Ellis-led Bearcats team for 26 points in 29 minutes.
That 2014-15 Rebels team was pretty good, making the tournament and finishing 28th in AdjO. This year’s team likely won’t match that. They’re in their first year under a new head coach. They did, however, enter the game averaging 80 points. I was confident in expecting a win, but had that 2014 game in the back of my mind.
Instead, much like Friday, there were moments—Ole Miss closing a first half on a hot streak to get within four at the break—but Cincinnati dominated the second half. The Rebels scored just 24 points in the second period. Even better, the game was tied with 14:47 remaining. The ‘Cats closed the night on a 30-16 run. That’s good basketball.
After struggling a bit against George Mason, Cumberland led the way against Ole Miss, reeling off 25 points thanks to 13-for-14 from the stripe. Cumberland now has six career 20-point games. Half of those have come in the last three weeks. He’s getting the message.
Best of all, although it may not be flashy, is the free throw shooting. Cumberland is physically built to attack the rim and has a game that matches, but he’s never quite had the free throw shooting to truly maximize that skill. He shot 65% as a freshman and 68% as a sophomore. The season is young, but he’s rolling at an 82% clip so far. That’s where he needs to be. With a team that will frequently be looking for points like loose change in the couch cushions, getting a few extra from their star will alleviate pressure.
Broome is right there with him. Combined, the pair shot 28-for-33 at the line in Florida, good for 85%. That number makes me want to cry. Please keep this up, guys.
Keith Williams is the best Cincinnati surprise in years. Again, I predicted he’d be the starter at SG in March, but I didn’t expect him to hit the ground running like he has. This isn’t a Mike Warren-level explosion onto the scene, but it’s more than we typically get in the past. I don’t think we’ve had a better “Oh wow, this guy is really good now” moment since Justin Jackson’s explosion as a senior in 2013-14. Compared to last year, his minutes have doubled and so have his shot attempts, both from the field and from deep. Despite the drastically increased usage, he’s shooting 48% from the field (up from 39% a year ago) and 33% from deep (up from 15%). I don’t know what he was doing over the offseason, but he catapulted himself from the end of the rotation to Solid Starter over the summer. It’s so fun. He reminds me a bit of JaQuon Parker in his undersized do-it-all-ness. I’ll keep beating the drum as long as this keeps up.
Earlier this week I wrote about Rashawn Fredericks’ situation. I expected him to be a larger part of this team, especially in the early going, but his floor time had shrunk from 14 minutes in the opener to just eight and nine minutes against Milwaukee and Western Michigan, respectively. Well, he’s back now. He averaged 12.5 minutes in the two Florida games and had the best outing of his young Bearcat career against George Mason, scoring 11 points in 11 minutes on 5-for-6 from the floor. He’s basically a 6’5” power forward, which is my favorite type of player. Happy to see him back in the action.
Trevon Scott continues to plug away. After floundering a bit in the Western Michigan game, he bounced back in Florida, averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while shooting 67% from the floor. Love it.
The Bearcats are back in Clifton Tuesday to take on a dreadful Arkansas-Pine Bluff team that sits at #337 in KenPom. Give me a 40-point blowout and let’s go grab a win in Las Vegas against a solid UNLV team Saturday.