Oh man, we were due for one of these.
Novembers in Clifton are usually marked by Cincinnati absolutely bludgeoning some poor SWAC teams for 40 minutes, followed by fans getting their hopes up about pace and shooting. That didn’t happen this year. The Bearcats opened with a slog against the Buckeyes before hardly trampling teams like North Carolina Central, Milwaukee, and Western Michigan.
After an ugly start, I think everyone was just grateful for a few outings that featured 70 points and a victory. I forgot how fun these were.
Everything was working for every member of the Bearcats on Tuesday night. The ‘Cats scored 100 points for the first time since last November, shot 64% for the first time since a December 2016 massacre of Fairleigh Dickinson, and finished with six players in double figures.
It was the kind of night that opened with Jarron Cumberland throwing in back-to-back threes and ended with walk-on Sam Martin scoring on back-to-back possessions. It was all punctuated by Mamoudou Diarra launching an outside shot on a fast break to give his team its 105th point.
Just a few days after the football threw themselves a party at Nippert, the basketball team did the same next door. The two have a combined margin of victory of 106 points in their most recent home games.
The story of the night, in my eyes, was Keith Williams. I’m going to wear out his name on here, but he continues to demand attention. He’s not just doing the dirty work any longer, he’s making highlight plays.
In the span of just a few minutes, Williams stole an inbounds pass and did this:
And then drove baseline and did this:
Not to disparage Williams’ play from a year ago, but he simply wasn’t this player. He’s gone from the back of the rotation to, I dare say, Cincinnati’s #2. There is a long way to go, and the competition in the recent stretch hasn’t been great, but this type of play goes beyond numbers. He looks lightyears ahead of what I expected.
At the same time though, the numbers don’t lie.
Emerging as one of my favorites is Justin Jenifer. Hate it or love it, the senior leader was Cincinnati’s top scorer and is shooting a blistering 44% from outside this season. It was mentioned on the broadcast, but Jenifer is the ultimate pick-your-spot guy. He’ll quietly put up 13 points on a night like Tuesday, but by the time conference play rolls around, he won’t take any shot that isn’t embarrassingly open. JJ is the king of knowing his role and playing it perfectly. There’s a reason Mick Cronin loves him.
Jarron Cumberland, nursing a minor hamstring issue, didn’t play in the second half at all. With a 37-point lead at the break, that probably makes sense. He chipped in ten points and six rebounds while he was out there.
On a night with everything falling on offense, it might be the defense that was the most reassuring. It can’t be reiterated enough that Arkansas-Pine Bluff is terrible, but it’s not often you’re able to hold a team to 32% shooting and force 31 turnovers. Cronin is obsessed with turnovers, and this was Cincinnati’s most since a 2012 game against Little Rock. I don’t care who the opponent is, if a Cronin team is doing something on the defensive end that hasn’t been done in six years, it’s noteworthy.
All told, it was the perfect way to cap the opening portion of the season. The Bearcats are 6-1 and have inched up to #36 in KenPom. Confidence is back and things are miles and miles ahead of where they were in that opening half against Ohio State.
They’re gonna need all of that momentum. The next five games are as tough as you’ll see Cincinnati play in a non-conference schedule. They play at UNLV, vs Northern Kentucky, vs Xavier, at Mississippi State, and vs UCLA. Those are five games that will demand focus and attention to detail. As my good friend Chad Brendel said, I think 3-2 is the goal. But this team has the ability and emerging confidence to win them all.
Mamoudou Diarra is emerging. It was a big night for the fan club, with ‘Dou matching a career-best nine points. It was the confident stroke from outside at the end of the game that surprised most. Diarra’s potential is off the charts, and guys like Trevon Scott think he’s closer than most think. Given how last night went, it’s hard to argue. He’s mistake prone, but it seems like Cronin is going to let him play a bit. We’ll see how much confidence he has in him in this upcoming stretch when quality minutes will be demanded.
Rashawn Fredericks is catching the bug. Maybe he just needed to adjust to the gap between JUCO and high-major basketball, but he’s finally playing like I expected him to. Last night saw 10 points in 23 minutes, including 2-for-2 from outside. Much like Diarra, I’m interested to see how much playing time he gets in a more intense stretch of games.
Logan Johnson’s bandana look is incredibly high quality. I hope that sticks around, because it’s a great signature style.
I really like Cane Broome off the bench. I can’t imagine he loves playing there, but he’s killing it. On Tuesday he had 11 points in 15 minutes on 4-for-5 shooting. He works so well as a spark. If you subscribe to The Athletic, my guy Justin Williams wrote about it this week.
Jarron Cumberland’s diet is a nightmare.
Trevon Scott is becoming dependable enough that it feels boring to write about him here. 11 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. Yawn.
Eliel Nsoseme has struggled to find his groove so far, but I thought he had a good game. Plays like this are reassuring.
Trevor Moore may be struggling the most of anyone, but he finally started to put it together Tuesday, tossing in five points and making his first three pointer of the season. We saw last year that he can play, and we know he didn’t get worse as a sophomore. He’ll be fine.
UNLV Saturday should be fun. Playing on the other side of the country is good for a team that needs as many early challenges as possible. While the Runnin’ Rebels aren’t a great team, it should be a decent game. I like Cincinnati by double digits, but wouldn’t be shocked if it’s a close game until the later minutes.