The Cincinnati Bearcats are 23-4, 12-2 and have now won 9 out of the last 10. They sit a game behind first place Houston with three more games in between what is sure to be a hell of a regular season finish at the Shoemaker Center.
The concern with this version of the basketball Bearcats isn’t their record. On all accounts they’ve overachieved from what was expected of them this year, rightfully or not.
I get sports fans in Cincinnati are jaded. The failure of any team, colligate or professional to bring home a title in the past 30 years seems long overdue. So I see two different ways to see this year’s Bearcats basketball team. You either see a team that can close out tight games or you see a team that fails to put lesser teams away early.
At first I was in the first camp. Tight games build teams for a run in March and builds toughness, character, and winners. The Bearcats have been in their fair share of nail biters this season. Starting with an early struggle against the visiting Milwaukee team where the Bearcats eventually pulled out a 74-63 win that many thought was too close for comfort that early in the season. Fast forward to Vegas where the Bearcats pulled out a 65-61 win despite Jarron Cumberland scoring a mere 3 points.
Move into conference play where after the Bearcats beat the brakes off of Tulane they let ECU hang around way too long on the road and got beat by a lowly AAC foe 73-71.
The Bearcats followed up that game by going to the wire in Tulsa and needed an OT to go on a win 70-65.
Not wanting our blood pressure to reach safe levels the Bearcats came home and played another OT game, this time with UConn. They won that one 74-72.
The Bearcats went over to the city of Brotherly Love and served up a Philly special pulling out a super tough 72-68 win.
Of the past 5 games the Bearcats have only won in double digits once, against Wichita St when Cumberland put up 27 points at home. You have a close road loss in Houston in that same span as well as 5 point win at Memphis, a 5 point win against UCF, and now as of today a 4 point win in Hartford, CT. A game that needed late game heroics from the two senior point guards Justin Jenifer, and Cane Broome.
For his second game in a row Cumberland is MIA. Which you could argue is a reason why the Bearcats have struggled to put away these teams. But it’s not the only reason. In those games mentioned Cumberland is averaging 18.2 points a game. That’s pretty good by most standards.
Let’s take today’s game as an example, although the game played out a little different than the others (I’m talking about blowing a 15 point lead in the second half.) We saw senior leaders step up and make big plays when they had to and when the star of the show wasn’t shining as bright as he should have been the role players stepped up. What caused this huge swing in the second half? I’d blame it on the long scoreless gaps where either turnovers, weak fouls, or a horrible shot selection suffocated the offense.
What does all of this mean? Even though it’s the end of February it’s still too early to tell for me. It’s awesome the Bearcats have a legit shot at winning 30 games again this season and are pretty much a lock for a 9th straight NCAA tournament but we need a run in that thing. Will these close games full of adversity push this Bearcats team over the tournament hump and propel them to a Sweet 16 birth? Maybe you’re a jaded Cincy sports fan and see these close wins as a red flag and yet another early exit from the tournament. At this point in time I honestly don’t know what we’ll happen but I know it will be epic.