After watching the two exhibition games for the Cincinnati Bearcats back in late October and early November, I typed my season preview. You may remember reading it. In that preview, entitled Concerns Aplenty, I listed eleven question marks for this ballclub heading into the 2013-14 season.
And, in Cincinnati’s nine-point loss today to the New Mexico Lobos at The Pit in Albuquerque, damn near all eleven of those question marks were answered rudely. I think the easiest way to do this is to have you pull up the box score in a new tab–click here for that–and then I’ll go through each question mark and add my comments in terms of what happened today.
11) Can five-star freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence (6’9”, 205 – Springfield Gardens, NY) be productive?
Jermaine got us out of our seats early in the game with a pump-fake, drive and thundery right-handed leaner, but that turned out to be his only bucket of the game. Lawrence did grab two offensive boards in his 14 minutes of p.t., but he contributed no assists, blocks or steals and committed four fouls. Need a little more out of the young fella in games like this moving forward. To be fair, he was up against two of the best big men (Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow) in the nation today.
10) Is UC’s front line too thin?
Today it sure was. Lawrence had the 4 fouls, Justin “Worm” Jackson had 4 and Titus “Rub” Rubles fouled out. 7’1′ senior David Nyarsuk only logged two minutes. The front line (6-for-20 from the field combined) was no match for Kirk (7-for-11, 15 points) and Bairstow (24 points, 13 rebounds).
9) Will UC actually be able to play uptempo this year?
The Bearcats did get a few fast break opportunities today, but for the most part, UC was faced with the task of executing in the halfcourt for most of the game. That task proved too tall for Ge’Lawn Guyn (0-for-6, 0 points, 0 assists, 3 turnovers) and the ‘Cats.
8) Which freshman/freshmen will be reliable?
Finally some good news. We covered Lawrence already…we can call his effort neither good nor bad. He was okay. The other two freshmen, guards Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson, did contribute. With UC struggling to put the ball in the basket in the first half, Caupain came off the bench to stick a 16-footer, two free throws and a corner three as Cincinnati cut a 15-point deficit to seven at the break. Johnson dropped a trey and converted a fast break lay-up.
7) What kind of production can Mick expect from the bench?
Some more good news here. UC got 21 points from its bench today–18 from the three freshmen. Also, four steals and only one turnover from the reserves.
6) Where will the offense come from with Kilpatrick on the bench or having an off night?
Sean Kilpatrick finished with 19 points in this game, but make no mistake about it: This was an off night for SK. In the first half, the fifth year senior repeatedly bailed out the Lobo defense by settling for jumpshots. SK finished with just two assists while shooting 5-for-18 (1-for-7 on threes). And, with SK shooting such a low percentage, the Bearcats struggled to get into a rhythm all game…finishing with just 54 points (20 in the first half). Caupain stepped up and contributed 11 points, but the rest of the team offered little or no help. You see Guyn’s worthless stat line and we talked about the inept conversion rate for the big guys…and then you look at what Shaq Thomas brought to the table…which brings us to…
5) Is Shaq ready?
First, read again what I typed in the preview:
Everyone remembers what Shaq Thomas did in the NCAA Tournament last March, and everyone knows he’s Tim Thomas’s nephew, and we’ve all seen the freakish athleticism and Inspector Gadget arms…but this season, the success of the Cincinnati Bearcats depends on whether or not Shaq can emerge as an effective 25-minute-a-game player for Coach Cronin. The individual stats don’t matter as much as how well he performs defensively (without fouling) and on the glass (both ends). Basically, Shaq must add value night in and night out for this team to become what we all want it to become.
Now, let’s take a look at Shaq’s performance vs New Mexico:
16 minutes (we need 25), 0-for-2 field goals (he has got to find a way to be more aggressive and get high percentage looks on rebounds, cuts and run-outs), 2 rebounds (0 offensive), and struggled to defend. He also had a costly turnover when he simply dropped the ball.
If we can’t get ANYTHING from Shaq, it’s gonna be very god damn difficult to beat a good team (especially on the road).
4) Can this team rebound the basketball?
Today, not so much. New Mexico not only owned the overall rebounding margin by seven, but worse, the Bearcats allowed the Lobos to offensive rebound 50% of their missed shots. Again, UNM has two dynamic big men, but the question mark proved to be a legitimate concern and was a factor in why UC lost the game.
3) So, uh, who’s UC’s point guard?
I’ll you who it isn’t: Ge’Lawn Guyn. As mentioned above, Guyn gives you absolutely nothing. No points, no assists and three turnovers…that’s what you call negative value. The bright spot however was the freshman Caupain (pronounced “COE-pain”) who was a steady contributor all game. I think we’ll see Guyn’s minutes and shot attempts drop and Caupain’s increase as the season wears on.
2) Can UC pleeeeaaaase improve its field goal percentage!?
It was 29.5% in this game. F*cking twenty-nine and a half percent. Shades of last season, much? So you ask, well why did they shoot so poorly? I’ll give you a few reasons:
a) Too much standing around, not enough player movement
b) Not enough ball movement–only FIVE assists as a team for the entire game
c) Settling for too many jumpshots (4-for-16 on threes) and not getting to the free throw line enough (where they hit 14 of 15)
Nauseating on offense today.
1) In 2012-13, UC ranked 10th in the country in defensive efficiency and 22nd in points allowed per game (59.0). Can this team once again be way up there nationally in defensive efficiency?
This one’s kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, UC held UNM to just 63 points in their own building. On the other hand, the Lobos shot 50%, got a slew of dunks, lay-ups and free throw attempts and again, UC failed to close out defensive possessions by securing the rebound half of the time. So I guess when I type it out like that, it really isn’t a mixed bag: UC didn’t play very good defense today.
It all adds up to a 63-54 loss on the road to a pretty damn good team. It’s not the kind of loss that will hurt you at the end of the season when the selection committee looks at your resume. It’s a good learning experience for a team with a bunch of guys in new roles and it’s a barometer for Mick Cronin and his coaching staff.
And like I said in my preview, this is pretty much a bubble team, and it will be all season. UC will have plenty more chances to pick up the kinds of wins that prove it belongs in the NCAA Tournament, it will just be a matter of whether the Bearcats can pull out those wins.