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The Cincinnati Bearcats Are the Sleeper Nobody Is Talking About

NCAA Tournament is set and the Bearcats are THAT team in the 2017 Dance

By Tony HeimPublished 7 years ago 3 min read
Cincinnati vs Everyone

Let me be 100% clear. This is a completely biased article.

The first basketball team I fell in love with was the Cincinnati Bearcats. Growing up in the 513, we didn’t have a professional basketball team — the Cats’ were the next best thing.

Now let me be 200% clear. I say this every year.

I mistakenly pick UC to the Elite Eight every year, but most of the time they end up making my Final Four. For the last six seasons I have done this, and this tournament will be no different. Well, this tournament is a little different, and that’s because I actually believe this is the team that can make a deep run.

What’s the sure-fire recipe for a team to get hot in March? A veteran point guard, a strong defense and a team that can hit shots from deep. UC checks off all three.

Senior Troy Caupain is in his fourth consecutive March Madness and starting for the third time. Caupain is the program’s all-time leader in assists, beating out greats like Oscar Robertson and Nick Van Exel. He’s made clutch shots in past tournaments and he’s a part of the winningest duo in Bearcats history.

Then there’s the defense. The Bearcats rank fourth in the country in scoring defense this season, only giving up 60.5 points a game. They held teams to 38.5% shooting from the field all season behind the play of junior forward and 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year Gary Clark. UC plays a hybrid matchup zone that forces teams to try and stretch the floor, but the Bearcats’ length and athleticism on the perimeter have culminated into a truly suffocating unit.

But here’s the real reason this current version of the Bearcats gives me so much hope — the offense. For years, Mick Cronin’s team has been stunted by an inability to score enough points on the offensive end. This team is no different this year in the way they play; Cronin still doesn’t run many set plays and the movement tends to stagnant. The difference is everybody he throws out — besides freshman bigs Nysier Brooks and Tre Scott — has the ability to create their own shot.

The scoring is spread out across the team; any night, six different Bearcats could lead the team in scoring. Caupain, Clark, sophomore Jacob Evans and junior Kyle Washington all averaged double-digit points a game this season. Shooting guards Kevin Johnson and Jarron Cumberland both average eight points a game; the freshman Cumberland has come on as of late, averaging 12 points a game in his last six contests.

Gary Clark going up for a layup, Courtesy of Cincinnat MBB Twitter

The Bearcats aren’t a great shooting team, but their 35% mark from deep is a little deceiving. This team is hit-or-miss, which was amplified in the AAC championship game where they shot 19–61 (31.1%) from the field and 4–24 (16.7%) from deep. The big fear of Bearcat Nation is that type of performance coming during the Big Dance; the fact it happened a game early makes me think they have a hot stretch coming their way.

Here’s where it gets tricky: the South is loaded.

Assuming the bracket goes by the chalk, UC would have to beat UCLA, UK and UNC three games in a row. That actually may be better than it sounds. UCLA has a truly incredible offense, but their lackluster defense makes me believe the Bearcats can score with the Bruins. Malik Monk is terrifying, but if he has an off-night Cincinnati’s defense is good enough to contain the Wildcats and hold them under 60. I pray UNC loses before the Elite Eight.

I get that it’s hard to take my words seriously since you know my background. But I should be 300% clear about something. Each year, I ultimately know in the back of my head that my “Bearcats to the Elite Eight/Final Four” is a complete fallacy.

This year, I’m not so sure of that.


About the Creator

Tony Heim

Sam Presti Stan | Just trying to learn how to use 14% of my brain

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