Much like UConn a year ago, the Bearcats are having the type of season against SMU that makes it hard to remember a time when these games were boxing matches. The Bearcats were 1-2 last season against the Ponies and were outscored by a total of 22 points across those three games. This year, the Bearcats are 2-0 and have outscored the Mustangs by a cool (Colt) 45 points. Here's what happened Sunday:
SMU had no players. You can't talk about this game without mentioning the fact that this team was practically the ghost of SMU. The Ponies played this game with six scholarship players, and it showed. After opening up a 5-0 lead in the early going, minutes SMU quickly got punked on a 15-2 run and the game was over as quickly as it had started. The Bearcats held a 35-point lead at the mid-point of the second half.
Kyle Washington, my gosh. I don't think I've ever seen a player display such a wild disparity between grace and efficiency. Most guys who can score, especially in low post, do so with precision moves designed to be completed by muscle memory. Kyle is different. He's a ballerina at best and a contortionist at worst, awkwardly twisting and angling before flipping the ball over his head and into the hoop. He finished the game with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds and two blocks in just 18 minutes, playing himself up to #4 in the AAC Player of the Year race on KenPom. For those keeping track at home, the Bearcats now boast three of the top four players on that list after being shut out of the AAC Preseason First Team roster.
Jarron Cumberland is quietly working. I suppose its his role as an underclassman, but he's been really playing a background role this season. There are superstars like Jacob Evans and Gary Clark, and in the past three weeks Kyle Washington has emerged. Despite this, Cumberland is quietly turning in a nice season after a rocky stretch. The kid played 25 minutes on Sunday, finishing with 12 points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals, and no turnovers. There are few things I've enjoyed more this season than seeing Cumberland get his mitts on the ball in the middle of anything resembling a fast break, because I already know he's bulldozing his way to the basket.
Justin Jenifer had the perfect Justin Jenifer game. He got 19 minutes and turned them into six points on 2-for-3 shooting to go with five assists, four rebounds, a steal, and just one turnover. This is the exact game the Bearcats need from Justin. Shoot it if it's there, otherwise distribute efficiently. This is why Mick lets him start.
Nysier Brooks continues to be a pleasant surprise. Is his game perfect? No. Is his game perfect for the role he plays? Maybe. He shot just 2-of-7 on Sunday, but turned in an otherwise nice game in 19 minutes of action with four points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block. He's a great change of pace.
Keith Williams played pretty well in garbage time, shooting 3-for-5 for eight points. Keith aficionados, get your fix. I have a feeling his playing time will shrink in the coming weeks as Mick Cronin inevitably tightens up the rotation and guys like Williams and Nsoseme are squeezed out of normal minutes. That's a guess.
The Bearcats finally broke the SMU Curse.
The shooting percentages weren't great and the Bearcats didn't do nearly as well in the rebound battle as they should've. Gary Clark and Jacob Evans were quiet on the offensive end. I really have a hard time writing about negatives for a team that's been clobbering opponents for 16 games in a row.
Biiiiiiiiiig game coming Thursday in Houston. Aside from the Wichita road game to close the year, this one will be Cincinnati's greatest challenge. Just keep winning.