Honestly, I almost didn’t go.
The drive from Columbus to Cincinnati can be brutal, especially after a day of work, during one of the busiest weeks of the year at my Grown Up Job. I had the season tickets ready to go, but as I left work to pick up my wife from her office, I was questioning myself. I was exhausted. Did I really want to drive four hours for two hours of basketball, returning home after 1 a.m.?
I am glad I went.
It started out poorly though. Honestly, just like football. Remember when the Bearcats took on UCLA at the Rose Bowl, falling behind double digits in the early going? They ended up controlling the rest of the game so soundly that I had genuinely forgotten they ever trailed by 10 points in the first half. On Wednesday, Cincinnati blew the doors off the Bruins again. They won 93-64. That’s a 29-point advantage. Did you forget that the Bearcats trailed 14-7 early, looking absolutely clueless on the defensive end? I tweeted the Doc Rivers GIF during a game in which the Bearcats eventually defeated a “blue blood” program by nearly 30 points. Crazy.
The story of the game was three-pronged, in my eyes.
The first story is Jarron Cumberland. I think I feel comfortable saying this was the best I’ve seen him look in person. Yes, he has scored more than he did Wednesday, but those have either come away from Cincinnati or against weak competition. Against UCLA he was doing exactly what Cronin begged for after the Western Michigan game. “I don’t know if you can make a guy want to carve people’s hearts out,” Cronin said back in November. The Bruins got carved. In just 27 minutes, Jarron scored 25 points, shooting 9-for-17 from the floor and 4-for-5 from deep. He had 19 at halftime, and was clearly forcing the issue. That opening 20 minutes was the most I’ve seen a Bearcat grab the bull by the horns since Sean Kilpatrick in 2014. That’s the guy Jarron has to be most of the time.
The second story is Keith Williams. Despite his illness, he popped off 19 points, four assists, and three rebounds. He looks the part of a future all-conference player, which is crazy to anyone that watched this team last year. Keith averaged 9.9 minutes last year. So far this year he’s averaging 11.8 points. The Bruins are laden with future draft picks in the starting lineup and top-100 players on the bench. Keith Williams looked like the most athletic player on the floor.
The final significant story is my favorite. Nysier Brooks took a guy projected by some to be a first-round pick in June and cooked him like a Christmas goose. Moses Brown is not a bad player. He one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, and he’s 7’1” and lanky like the guys you see in the NBA these days. Nas made him look foolish for much of that game. Brooks played just 19 minutes but scored 14 points (including some of the first half’s biggest buckets) on 5-for-6 shooting to go with six rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. I thought Brown would be UC’s biggest problem Wednesday. He only recorded 12 points and six boards, and most of that came in second half garbage time with his team trailing by a couple dozen.
The three pointers showed up for Cincinnati (just like I predicted) and the defense, after a slow start, looked as good as you’ll see it against a team with UCLA’s talent.
A lot of your run-of-the-mill Bearcat fans want what UCLA has. A glitzy, high-flying offense and a team stacked with a score of elite recruits. Now, UCLA is dealing with some extra adversity this year, but Mick Cronin just crushed that team so soundly that I think the wheels have to be turning on a coaching change. UCLA travels to Ohio State Saturday, and they certainly won’t win that game if they play like they did Wednesday. Steve Alford’s seat is warming up. Mick Cronin is in a transition year, and his seat is just fine. The Bearcats are 10-2. They’re up to #23 in KenPom. They just completed arguably the season’s toughest stretch at 4-1. Their AdjO ranking is currently higher than last year’s team that featured two players that are on NBA contracts today.
The Bearcats are out of the woods on a tough out-of-conference gauntlet. Their two losses came in the first game and the hardest game. There’s a school of thought that says those are the ones you’d most want to win, but the other side of that argument says those losses ding your resume the least. It’s hard to be upset with how things look right now. Cronin and his Cincinnati team are running downhill. They’ll play just one KenPom top-100 team between now and January 27th. A dismal slate, yes. But the Bearcats clearly didn’t let Mississippi State derail their momentum. The wins might start piling up.
Keep the beatdowns coming.
Wednesday’s attendance was larger than the Shootout. How does that work? On that topic, credit to the students for showing up in force. Attendance for these games can be weird over Christmas break, but you wouldn’t have known everyone went home for the holidays the way they packed it in Wednesday.
Justin Jenifer had five more assists without a turnover. Yawn.
Cane Broome is really in a rut. I honestly don’t understand it. It makes sense he’d start the season cold like he did. It makes sense he’d bounce back strongly like he did. It doesn’t make sense that he’s spent the last four games toiling again. It was visible on Wednesday. He was creating good shots but they just wouldn’t fall. I said it after the last game, but Broome is too talented for this to become a long-term pattern. At least now the ‘Cats are out of the woods and he can get back into a groove against weak competition. (Credit to him for three assists and a couple rebounds though.)
Saturday’s game against SC State is Cincinnati’s last before a long break that will have them in a holding pattern until 2019. I’ll keep you guys updated on Twitter, but I’m going to take a break for a bit as well. I don’t think I will have anything on Saturday’s game, and then I’m going to be taking it easy for a week or so, but I’ll be back for the Military Bowl. Merry Christmas!