Wichita State has won 89 percent of its home games in the last decade. Suddenly Mick Cronin and his Bearcats find themselves 2-0 in Kansas.
Saturday’s 11-point victory over the Shockers is a bit deceiving. The Bearcats came in as 5.5-point favorites and were projected to win by four on KenPom. The double-digit win looks mighty impressive (and it was) but it doesn’t tell the story of how fast this game got out of hand.
Wichita State struggled to build any kind of lead throughout the afternoon, but so did Cincinnati. Each time the Bearcats got ahead by a possession, you could count on the Shockers answering with a huge shot. When the Bearcats built another five-point lead with less than six minutes remaining, I was braced for the inevitable.
Then the game turned.
Jarron Cumberland drew a foul in the lane, which upset Shocker guard Erik Stevenson. Stevenson drew a technical foul, which upset Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall. Marshall had spent the afternoon animated on the sidelines, and this sent him over the edge. He was whistled for a technical of his own. Suddenly the Bearcats were up five with six consecutive free throws coming. Justin Jenifer converted all four technical foul shots, Cumberland made both of his for the personal foul, and the Bearcats found themselves leading what had been a back-and-forth game by 11 points.
Things were relatively breezy from then on out. The ‘Cats finished on a 21-9 run.
Cumberland continued his junior season march despite not looking himself. He shot just 3-for-12 inside the arc but cruised to a team-high 18 points while adding six rebounds. Support came from the usual places—Jenifer chipped in 17 points at his always-efficient 4-for-5 clip and Keith Williams had 14 points shooting 5-for-9.
Cincinnati won the game like it has to. They won the turnover battle (13 to 12), the rebound battle (36 to 24), and the free throw battle (35 to 7). These are all hallmarks of this program but are things that have been largely missing over this rocky five-game stretch.
Yet again, some of the same questions linger. The three-point defense continues to struggle. Wichita’s 8-for-21 mark was good for 38.1%. It’s an improvement over recent games, but still on the wrong side of Cincinnati’s season average, which has sunk to 36%—259th nationally. The Tulsa team that gave them fits in Oklahoma two weeks ago looms large on Thursday, followed by a daunting road game against a Temple team that will serve as their biggest AAC challenge yet.
The Owls shoot just 32.6% from deep as a team, and lost at home to Penn Saturday, but the Bearcats always seem to struggle in Philadelphia. An opponent ranked 79th on KenPom figures to continue that trend.
The Bearcats appear to be pulling out of their recent rut, slowly but surely. The fact that they’re doing it while winning four straight is a testament to the kids on the court and the relentless culture Mick Cronin has instilled in Clifton.
As recently as last week, it felt a bit like the sky was falling. A peek at the record shows 16-3. It’s honestly pretty incredible.
UConn and Wichita both have head men that coached against Cincinnati while looking even more animated than Mick Cronin, which can be a feat. They also fouled the Bearcats at an absurd rate. I don’t know if there’s a connection between the two, but it’s interesting (and funny).
Nysier Brooks and Trevon Scott each finished with 10 rebounds, a total just four shy of Wichita’s 24. We haven’t seen enough of that recently, and it was a thing of beauty.
The Bearcats had just five assists on 18 made baskets. They forced just one steal. The bench didn’t make a field goal, shooting 0-for-6.
Thursday’s home game against Tulsa is the first rematch of the AAC slate. The ‘Cats struggled against Tulsa in their last meeting. Getting them a second time—at home, no less—should help. If the Bearcats can make easy work of the Golden Hurricane now that they’ve seen them once, I’ll feel a bit better about this underperforming stretch.