Probably like you, I’ve been cautiously optimistic in following the Cincinnati Bearcats this year. Yes, they are 17-3, but their schedule hasn’t been great and, in past years, fast starts have culminated in ugly late-season performance. I do feel a little bit different about this team, though.
I mean, no, they aren’t a top ten team. They’ve shown so far that they aren’t quite good enough to beat the Syracuse’s, the Villanova’s, even the Notre Dame’s on the road. With that said, this Bearcats team has shown that they’re good enough to beat everyone they’re expected to beat (including the likes of Xavier, @St. Johns, Seton Hall, Dayton, @Oklahoma), which is no small feat.
St. Johns isn’t an elite team either, but winning in their building is still a quality road victory. The Red Storm have already beat Northwestern, Georgetown, and Notre Dame at home, not to mention West Virginia and Providence on the road.
Cincinnati seems to have some issues opening games (as well as after the halftime break), falling behind St. Johns early but taking a six point lead to the half, only to give it right back in the second half. It took a clutch three-point play from Yancy Gates to put the finishing touches on a narrow win.
The Cats won the game because they, like usual, played good, solid defense and outrebounded St. Johns. They got help on the line as well, as St. Johns shot a pathetic 12-26 on free throws. Outside of Gates, who had a nice second half after a non-existent first, Justin Jackson provided some quality play, scoring eight and grabbing six boards in 29 minutes.
Backup big man Anthony McClain also did good work (four points, six rebounds), though inexplicably (at least to me) got only eight minutes of court time. The Senior center has developed into a pretty solid player, and I think he deserves more minutes. He has good hands and passing ability underneath, and he plays solid defense and is a presence on the glass.
If anything, this is a very deep team. There are no superstars, no go-to guys (besides maybe Gates, at times), but on any night there are a number of players that can really contribute, and if guys like Jackson and McClain can pitch in solid minutes, that’s all the better.
Think about it, Cincinnati got little production from Dion Dixon, Ibrahima Thomas, and Sean Kilpatrick, all regular contributors, and Cashmere Wright had a season-high eight turnovers while Rashad Bishop went 2-11 from the floor, and they still got a nice road win. It’s fun to think about the possibilities if everyone is hitting on high cylinders.