Two Cents and Sense: Cincinnati Bearcats vs East Carolina

[photo by Elaine Thompson | AP]

[photo by Elaine Thompson | AP]

W E L P.

Cincinnati lost on the road, 73-71, to 263rd-ranked East Carolina. By KenPom metrics, it was their worst loss ever. KenPom’s data only goes back to the 2001-02 season, and Cincinnati hasn’t lost to a worse team since. Not East Carolina or Tulane in 2015. Not even Presbyterian in 2011.

Cincinnati was favored by 17.5 at tipoff.

This was bad. Really bad.

Back in August, I uttered the phrase, “This team will be really hot and cold. They could destroy UCLA and turn around and lose to ECU.” They did destroy UCLA. Somehow I let myself believe the second part was no longer true.

I knew this team would have head-scratching losses. Given the sturdy 12-2 start, I began to think those could only come against teams like Temple and SMU, not against teams like East Carolina. I was wrong.

It was a perfect storm that allowed the Pirates to escape with a win. They’re a poor shooting team, yet they were able to shoot 51%—9-for-22 from deep. Cincinnati, meanwhile, shot just 3-for-19 from outside, 8-for-18 at the free-throw line, and coughed the ball up 15 times.

The larger perfect storm going against Cincinnati now is the conference they’re competing in. The American, as has been said, is abysmal this year. Cincinnati is replacing three great players and has managed to be the conference’s best team, per KenPom. It’s impressive, but no good conference would allow that to happen. Now it’s going to bite the Bearcats. There aren’t enough opportunities to offset a loss like this. One game won’t keep them out of the tournament, but the margin for error just got much smaller.

In a better conference, or even a better year in this one, this would be a smaller bump in the road. But this year, the Bearcats just hit a pothole on the highway.

How do you build up the resume when you’ve already lost your two biggest games, two of your better wins (UCLA and Xavier) are at home against non-tournament teams, and the biggest opportunity left on the schedule is a road game against #32 Houston who very well may be cooling off by the time the Bearcats get to them more than a month from today?

Now they must avoid other bad losses against teams with enough firepower to win (Temple, SMU, UConn) and also manage to get a few solid wins (UCF, Houston). I have a hard time believing the Bearcats dominate the rest of the way, but I also don’t know where more than maybe a single salvageable loss comes from.

I’m always the one to believe that wakeup calls are good, but the Bearcats just flew too close to the sun and got burnt badly. Cronin is a wizard at navigating these seasons, and I’ve seen enough leadership in the locker room to believe this team can straighten things out and not spiral out of control. But this was a loss that didn’t need to happen, and now the Bearcats have made things a lot harder on themselves.

It’s not over yet, but the ‘Cats just did something that made this season far too “interesting” for comfort.

Stray Thoughts

  • It feels like a bit of a moot point after playing as poorly as UC just did, but the officiating today really was bad. Brooks was called for a foul on a play in which ECU committed a flagrant against him. On the afternoon’s final play, Cumberland looked to be fouled going to the hoop for the tie. After a game in which the officials were happy to call ticky-tack stuff, they swallowed the whistle on the deciding play. It was criminal that the Bearcats allowed one play to be a factor against a sub-250 team, but my point remains.

  • I’m not quite sure what Cronin’s thought process was with the handling of Nysier Brooks and Eliel Nsoseme. It felt like a revelation coming out of halftime when Nsoseme affected nearly every ECU possession in the first segment. When the going got tough, suddenly Nsoseme was nowhere to be found, and it was Brooks (who played okay, but didn’t seem to frustrate ECU as much) that was in the game. Not to mention his 3-for-9 mark at the line, which really jumps out in a two-point loss. Brooks had 15 and 5 and shot 6-for-9 from the floor, so you can’t pin this loss directly on him, but his usage feels noteworthy.

  • I can’t believe ECU continued to get open looks from outside in the second half. The game plan in the first half seemed to be allowing ECU to take deep shots. They’re not a shooting team, so I see the thought process, but it backfired. Why was that not addressed better at halftime? The Pirates’ resume says eventually they’ll start missing, but when they clearly weren’t slowing down, you have to make them slow down. That defensive mistake from the Bearcats was a huge factor in the loss.

  • Cincinnati seriously just shot 48% against East Carolina and lost. I can’t believe it. Cincinnati’s last four losses when scoring 70 (dating back to November 2016) came against AP-ranked teams. This one came against #263 East Carolina. What. On. Earth.