Would ya look at that? For the millionth game in a row, the Bearcats made things incredibly exhausting for fans, yet for the third year in a row, they'll play for a conference championship Sunday.
Stop me if you've heard this, but the Bearcats built a comfortable lead before rapidly squandering it amid a flurry of shots from their opponent.
They stuck to the script though: Frustrating start. Close game at halftime. Big second half lead. Ferocious opponent comeback. Gritty closing minutes. Cincinnati victory.
It's been a season of paradoxes.
Including the conference tournament, Cincinnati is now 16-4 against AAC opponents. Of those 20 games, I count two that didn't make me writhe with anxious energy—the opener against Tulane in January (a 32-point win) and a rematch with Tulsa three weeks later (a 24-point win).
Logic says a good team wouldn't play 18 heart-pounding games against the sixth-best conference in the country, yet logic also says only a good team could go 14-4 in those close games. That's Paradox #1.
Cane Broome played offensive hero in crunch time yet again. This isn't accurate, but it feels like he's hit approximately four important shots this season, and those four shots have directly won games. For as much as the narrative has been about how he's struggled to find a rhythm, if they didn't have Broome, this team probably has a handful fewer wins. That's Paradox #2.
Cincinnati had just one player receive postseason honors: Jarron Cumberland was named 1st Team All-AAC and AAC Player of the Year. But is this a team carried by one guy? Not really. It's been a season of unsung heroes, and Saturday was no different. Nysier Brooks was huge in the paint. He propelled the Bearcats with 13 points and nine rebounds, seven on the offensive end. For the second night in a row, Trevon Scott was vital. His 12 points and eight rebounds, plus a pair of threes, made a world of difference. Jarron Cumberland had 11 points, six rebounds, and four assists while shooting just 3-for-16. Did it matter? No—as has been the case many times this season, it didn't. For as stellar as Cumberland has been on his AAC POY campaign, the Bearcats have won more than a couple games thanks to the same complimentary pieces we were worried about six months ago. That's Paradox #3.
Maybe I should stop trying to figure out why this team is like this and accept (and celebrate) the fact they are. It means I don't have a clue what to expect for the remainder of the season, but hey. I won't scoff at 27 wins.
Keith Williams had a tough night against the Mustangs in the second round of the AAC Tournament. He didn't light the world on fire against the Shockers, but he improved dramatically. Six points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks will do the trick in a big game.
Eliel Nsoseme and Rashawn Fredericks share the Scrappy MVP Award. They combined for seven points and eight rebounds on 3-for-4 shooting. Fredericks may have had his most meaningful sequence of the season when he blocked a jumper on one end and buried an and-one on the other.
I haven’t mentioned Justin Jenifer, but this defensive play was… significant.
Anything can happen in March, and maybe a third crack is what the Bearcats need to solve the Houston problem. The good news from my end is that I won't live and die by the outcome. I thought the Bearcats needed to go to Memphis and win two games. They've done that. A conference title would be huge, and I'll be sweating it out tomorrow, but they took care of business. From where I stand, the rest is gravy. The Bearcats picked off the Cougars in this game a year ago. Let's do it again.