February 4, 2012

State of the Team: UC Basketball

Coach Mick Cronin astutely identified the November/December portions of the season as charcater-building. You find out what your team's identity is in those months. Bad losses can be erased later. Momentum sets the tone but does not define your season.

Now that Cincinnati has entered February this team is what it is. All the warts, and all the beautiful aspects are locked in.

There will be no surprising moments, only predictable results based on large stores of evidence.

How good is this team? What is their pinnacle? How deep a tournament run will they make? Will they make the tournament?

Points of Pride

Yancy Gates is a tough, physical player. The wishes and dreams of thousands of UC fans finally achieved actualization.

Gates denies open shots. He bangs into smaller players, creating space. His 2012 play shows team pride previously unfamiliar.

Sure Gates has some infuriating habits but the evolution into bruising scorer gives Cincinnati a well-rounded attack.

Perimeter scoring becomes more attainable when opponents fear your post player.

Depth is truly an asset for the first time in Mick Cronin's UC career. He can go nine deep with comfort. The offense drops off with Ge'Lawn Guyn, Cheikh Mbodj, and even JaQuon Parker in the game but their defense is generally solid.

Few teams can run away from the Bearcats when the subs are on the floor. This allows Coach Cronin to rotate more players into the action. No man would admit his waning fitness in the final stretch but the Bearcat success in tight games should be attributed to improving bench play.

"We have to continue to be better offensive team," said Coach Cronin. "We take too many bad shots. You negate your four guard attack. We are hard to defend if you show patience."

Patience and aggression are difficult attributes to marry. You want confident, assured guards but you want shots in rhythm.

Fear-inducing outside shooting hoists this team into the BIG EAST second tier. When you simultaneously play a trio of capable shooters teams are going to have to spread their defense out.

All three starting guards have hit 30+ triples to date. Dion's slump aside each demand an extending defender. Don't forget Jeremiah Davis and Jermaine Sanders. The two freshmen can knock down a bomb in a pinch.

Teamwide UC is shooting 36.5% from deep. They punish sagging defenses with this outside touch. BIG EAST teams are starting to catch on, but NCAA teams usually execute scouting reports poorly.

The players are not accustomed to player tendencies and the coaches inundate their minds with excessive information.

Cincinnati is a great perimeter shooting team.

"We have a lot of young guys who are good players," said Coach Cronin. "I think we have to play well on offense. We have to continue to try to improve. Because of our lack of dominating size and physicality we have to play better on offense. You can't run a spread offense and not score. You are going to lose. The Patriots score 13 points they are going to lose tomorrow."

Infectious energy spurns the Bearcats to many victories. Players like Justin "Ignition" Jackson and Sean "Killa" Kilpatrick invigorate the team, give it a spirit sorely lacking in the upperclassmen.

Cashmere Wright is a self-starter who only recently learned to boost teammates. Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon, the other captains, occasionally struggle to start their own engines.

Real Worries

Defensive transition again plagued the Bearcat guards versus DePaul. Too often team leaders like Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon compound turnovers with lazy retreats.

Coach Cronin attempts to bandage the wound or impart wisdom by subbing other guards in. Unfortunately, it is four years into the career of both and their growing pain days are long gone.

For all the offensive prowess of Dion Dixon and passing acumen of Cashmere Wright they are doomed to be terrible transition defenders.

Yancy Gates has to be the worst transitioning big man in America. If there is an inkling the play will finish without his arrival Gates just doesn't go.

Against DePaul the big man was beat down the floor double digit times.

It is not speed, rather moody reactions to nonpreferable plays. Instead of digging deeper and retreating with venom Cats are frequently seen loafing back to half-heartedly challenge a streaking player.

Not much NBA basketball inspires great defense, but UC can take a cue from playoff teams here.

When a guy steals the ball from you make him pay. Hard, clean fouls get opponents jumpy and dissuade fastbreak buckets.

DePaul scored twenty points on the break. They even created breaks when it didn't exist.

Cashmere Wright scored nine seconds into the half. Ok, good. Back in the groove. Feeling the flow.

And less than six seconds later DePaul was lofting a layup into their own basket. After a MADE basket UC allowed a layup at full speed.

Honestly!

Free throw shooting is downright abyssmal. This weakness has little to do with coaching. No doubt Coach Cronin administers countless free throw drills.

It comes down to mental acuity during physical exhaustion. Can a player demand perfection from an imperfect body?

For the season UC makes fewer than 64% of their free throws. Expounding on this only pains you and me.

By the numbers Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker are the best free throw shooters on the team. Park is unlikely to handle the ball in late game scenarios.

In those tight, nervous moments Dion Dixon (71%) and Cashmere Wright (67%) often handle the rock. Despite their disapointing free throw averages both convert late. The mark of a winning team is clutch play, the ability to defeat a worthy opponent by a small margin.

With Dion's reliable escapades to the foul line Cincinnati can hold a late lead.

Winning again

Tied for fifth with eight games remaining Cincinnati is poised for a strong finish. They could be favored in all but one (@Marquette).

Knowing the weaknesses and maximizing the strengths are vital to a deep BIG EAST Tournament run. The Bearcats already posted three noteworthy winning streaks. Another string of successes requires a win at St. John's or Marquette this upcoming week.

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