The 16-game run came to an end on Thursday night in Houston for the Cincinnati Bearcats. This run had to end at some point, and there are worst places for it to happen than on the road against a top-30 team. The Bearcats played worse than I thought they were capable of. Here's how it happened:
It was an absolute disaster. Yes, that's a positive in my eyes, as crazy as it sounds. Let me explain my reasoning though. For the first time in more than two months, this team lost. They lost on the road to a top-30 team in a game KenPom thought they'd win by four points. Not an easy game. Was it a blowout? Nope. Did the Bearcats play well? Nope. Did they play even decently? Nope. That's my silver lining. In a good team's building, the Bearcats got edged out despite playing like absolute garbage. In a dogfight, this team nearly went the final 12 minutes of game time without a field goal, yet still had a shot to win until the final couple possessions. If I'm making lemons out of lemonade, that's how I'm doing it.
They battled. I guess this goes in tandem with the previous point, but the Bearcats probably should've gotten rocked in this game. Instead they kept pace in a top-30 team's building despite the absolute inability to make a shot or string together stops on the defensive end. I honestly don't know how this game was so competitive, but I'll credit UC with refusing to roll over when they didn't have their A-game, their B-game, or their C-game.
The free throw shooting was great. Yes, skeptics will say the Bearcats missed a couple crucial ones in the final minute, but they also made a bunch of crucial ones and the only reason they had crucial ones to take in the first place is because they shot so well at the line. They shot 75% at the stripe, and most importantly earned 32 trips there, mostly down the stretch when field goals were impossible to come by. Notably, Jarron Cumberland, a 62% free throw shooter going into the game, shot 6-for-7. It was about the only thing UC had in the final 12 minutes. Take away the solid free throw shooting and this is a double-digit loss.
There are opportunities ahead. A lot has been made, both by me and others, about how the Bearcats have so many opportunities down the stretch. There's a chance to quickly right the ship on Sunday at home against a good Wichita team that escaped Temple tonight. After that, they get a chance to find a rhythm with games against UConn, Tulsa, and Tulane, two of which are at home. They close the season with a very important road game in Wichita before embarking on the AAC tournament where they'll likely have a chance to grab another impact win.
The conference lead is still fine. I know this is the furthest thing from anyone's mind right now––as it probably should be––but the Bearcats still have a two-game lead on the field in the AAC and can essentially put the conference away with a win Sunday.
This was a wake-up call. Ah yes, the infamous wakeup call. I'll be honest: Wake-up calls absolutely suck and I don't want to have another one. However, the Bearcats dropped a similarly frustrating game to Florida and reeled off the longest streak of the Cronin tenure afterwards. Sometimes successful teams need to be humbled to refocus, and this team was downright humbled on Thursday. Good teams use losses to learn lessons, and I believe this is a good team.
The Bearcats are still #3 in KenPom, and yes, that matters. Metrics are important and UC was able to spare at least one of them. Was this a bad loss? No. Was this a bad loss for a team with 2-seed aspirations? We'll see.
It was an absolute disaster. I listed this as a shred of positivity, but it was obviously a negative primarily. Does it scare me that this team has the capacity to play this poorly? Yeah. I truly did not think the Bearcats could get stuffed this badly. If they had played their worst game of the 16-game streak, they probably would've won on Thursday. Instead, they found a new basement and dropped their first game of 2018 because of it. In case you're feeling I'm a bit too rosy about this loss: The Bearcats played horribly.
Nobody played well. Seriously. I tried to find a single player that had a good game and there isn't one. I can't remember the last time I've said that about the Bearcats. Definitely not any time this season. Everyone either shot a horrible percentage, turned the ball over too much, or both. A team with four stars and great depth should never have this problem.
The bench did nothing. Aside from an Evans-assisted dunk by Trevon Scott, the bench put up a goose egg. One of this team's biggest strengths is their ability to play 10 guys. However, if the starters don't get any breathing room, UC can't spring that depth on anyone. Aside from the first 10 minutes of the game, the second unit got very little burn.
The turnovers were brutal, and they came from the worst places. Clark, Evans, and Washington--the "Big Three" committed a combined 10 turnovers, which is basically unheard of. Nail in the coffin.
The rebounding was embarrassing. The Bearcats got punked on the glass, especially in the first half. Houston had 7 of their 11 offensive rebounds before the break to keep things close when UC was playing well. The remaining four seemed to come in the final minutes of the second half to keep the Bearcats at bay. In a game where everything went south for Cincinnati, that sure feels like the stat where you can find the loss.
Things aren't over. Far from it. On paper, a loss for the first time in two months coming on the road against a top-30 team is not the end of the world. However, it basically leaves the Bearcats no margin for error if they'd like to be seeded where their talent says they should be. I'd hate to see what this team's fate is should they drop another regular season game.
A massive tilt is coming up on Sunday at home. If the Bearcats can continue their 39-game home streak, they'll be right back on track without too much lost. Let's get back to winning.