All they had to do was hold serve. In position for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid if the selections were made today (well, earlier today), the objective was pretty simple: Don’t lose to anyone you shouldn’t lose to, especially at home.
But the Tulane Green Wave and their No. 183 RPI and their five-game losing streak and their 257th-ranked (KenPom) offense had other ideas. After Bearcat freshman Gary Clark banked in a go-ahead shot with four seconds to play, Tulane point guard Jonathan Stark dribbled down the floor, threw up a contested 30-footer and SWISHED IT as time expired.
Tulane 50, UC 49. For the second time in two weeks, the Bearcats lose a game to a sub-150 RPI team when allowing FIFTY POINTS. So if we’re being completely honest here: Cincinnati did not deserve to win the game on Saturday. If you can’t score more than 50 points at home, you deserve what you get. Stark’s buzzer beater was justice served by the Basketball Gods.
Say hello to The Bubble. And say goodbye to the “look how good our RPI is” argument.
What’s the deal? How can a seemingly-NCAA-Tournament-worthy team struggle to score points this often? Especially a team that had its coach proclaim before the season: “Offense won’t be our problem.”
Well, after a beyond-dismal first half in which the Bearcats mustered just THIRTEEN POINTS on Saturday, I think it’s safe to say that offense is this team’s problem.
To be fair, substandard rebounding was also a big reason why UC allowed Tulane to hang around today. The Wave beat UC 39-27 on the glass, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds to UC’s six. That’s eight more extended possessions that UC and its unwatchable offense couldn’t afford to allow.
That said, let’s dive directly into the issue at the forefront of your mind.
Why Do The Bearcats Often Have Trouble Scoring?
How does a game like this happen? How does a game like the East Carolina game happen? How does this team have high turnover games against teams that don’t press? Why is it a complete shock when UC scores more than ten points in the first ten minutes of a basketball game?
And, as you know, it’s not just the 2014-15 Bearcats. Take a look at where UC has ranked in offensive efficiency (points scored per possession) per Teamrankings.com over the course of Mick Cronin’s tenure at his alma mater:
Only once in nine seasons has UC’s offense ranked inside the Top 100. That’s a trend.
Now, before we continue, there are two things to remember:
1) UC’s defensive efficiency ranks the past five seasons, starting with this season and moving backward: 14, 8, 10, 40, 19
2) The Bearcats have made the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons, despite those Jah-awful offensive numbers.
And those two things to remember are real, and they talk, and UC has a chance to win every game because of that consistent defensive prowess.
But you’re tired of hearing about defense. You want offense. You want offense and you want it right now and you want it consistently.
Hey, I don’t blame you. So while I’m inclined to say that you can’t argue with four straight NCAA Tournaments, you can argue with the fact that Cincinnati’s average offensive efficiency rank under Mick Cronin is a hair under 150th in the nation.
In the immortal words of Keegan Michael Key playing a Latino gangster in the Key & Peele sketch, Proud Thug, “You know what, but why though?” Why has UC consistently had trouble scoring? We have a few theories:
Theories For Cincinnati’s Offensive Struggles
Theory 1: Subpar Point Guard Play
You know what UC rarely gets? Easy baskets.
Troy Caupain, point guard
You know why? Because Cronin has yet to bring in a lead guard with the ability to consistently beat his man, draw defenders and dish for easy scores. This season, Troy Caupain leads the team with 3.5 assists per game. Last year, Sean Kilpatrick led the team with only 2.5 dimes a night. Guess how many times a UC player has averaged 5 or more assists per game under Mick. The answer: Zero. Cashmere Wright finished at 4.6 in 2011-12 and Deonta Vaughn was at 4.7 three seasons earlier.
Some point guards just know how to make the game easier for their teammates. You look at a guy like Dee Davis for Xavier. Little guy, not athletic, not a great defender. But he averages 6.2 assists per game for Xavier, who ranks 22nd in the nation in offensive efficiency right now.
Now, personally I’d rather have Caupain any day of the week. And in Troy’s defense, he’s still very young. But still: 3.5 assists for a guy like Troy who’s only getting up about seven shots per game—-that number has got to be higher.
UC has yet to suit up an effective point guard in terms of running an offense consistently and distributing the basketball under Cronin. Hopefully that will change next season with the arrival of Justin Jenifer.
Theory 2: Great Athletes, Average Skills
This is something I hear quite a bit from UC fans. And if you listen closely, you heard CBS Sports Network analyst Alaa Abdelnaby allude to it before the Temple game this past Tuesday.
Here’s the deal with this one. It’s real simple. Take a look at the best offensive teams in the country. What can the majority of those teams’ players do? SHOOT, PASS, and DRIBBLE.
It’s seems fairly obvious, right? You’d think that a kid couldn’t get a high-major college scholarship without being able to shoot, pass and dribble. But plenty of kids get offered those scholarships without being able to do one of those things, and some, you could argue, can’t do ANY of them!
Take a look at UC’s team right now. How many Bearcats can shoot, pass and dribble? (And when I say pass, I mean understand when to pass and who to pass to.) Honestly, I’d lean toward Caupain and Farad Cobb on that short list, however, with only 3.5 assists for Troy and 1.3 for Farad, can they really pass the ball?
And take a look at UC’s fast break opportunities. You see cardinal sins all over the place and you rarely see conversions.
When you look at this team overall, most guys are severely lacking in one or more of the three criteria. And that’s why UC has committed more turnovers than it has dished out assists. Tough to win that way. Puts a lot of pressure on your defense. And even with a top-level defense, it’s unrealistic to “pitch shutouts,” which is what a win over Tulane on Saturday or at East Carolina on Feb 1 would have been.
Theory 3: Too Much Time & Energy Spent on Defense
In order to consistently be among the nation’s best on defense, well, it doesn’t happen by accident. Tons of film watching and prep work, allocating what I imagine is a large portion of each practice to that side of the ball…..not to mention the draining exertion of each possession on the players.
Does the coaching staff spend enough time on offense? Do the players have sufficient energy left in the tank after busting it hard on D to score enough points? I don’t have the answers to those questions. But I’m guessing both are on your mind.
What’s the answer? You tell me. Post a comment below, e-mail me or Tweet at me.
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