Off to a Hot Start, Cincinnati’s Improved Offense the Key

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 2nd, 2015

Going into the season, Cincinnati wasn’t getting a whole lot of respect. Despite being picked to finish third in the American by the league’s coaches, Mick Cronin thought his team was better than that. Fast forward a month and the Bearcats are out to a blazing hot 7-0 start, including two solid wins against Nebraska and George Washington in last week’s Barclays Center Classic. Led by a new-look offense, Cincinnati takes on a tough Butler team tonight at home. Let’s take a quick look at what has made Cincinnati look more like a contender than a sleeper through the first two-plus weeks of the young season.

•The UC-UConn rivalry benefits from the mutual respect between Cronin and Ollie (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

A lot of pundits felt Cincinnati would stagnate this season but Mick Cronin has his squad pointing up so far. (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

Elite Defense

Defense is a staple of Cronin’s Cincinnati teams. The Bearcats have had a top 50 defense in each of the last six seasons, and Cincinnati is off to its best defensive start under Cronin ever, ranking third nationally and allowing more than 70 points only once thus far (Western Carolina). Let’s take a look at the team’s most recent performance in a 61-56 victory over George Washington. Two statistics stand out — the Colonials’ three-point and two-point field goal percentages. The Bearcats held GW to a miserable 29 percent shooting on two-point attempts, and it was only by virtue of 50 percent shooting beyond the arc that the Colonials stayed in the game. This shows that Cincinnati will muck things up inside the paint in an effort to prevent any easy baskets, even if by doing so the Bearcats give up some open threes in the process.

Improved Offensive Efficiency

Unlike its defense, the offensive side of the game remains something of a struggle; throughout the entirety of Cronin’s career on the sidelines, Cincinnati has yet to produce a top-50 offense. The Bearcats are looking to buck this trend this season, however, as their offensive efficiency currently ranks 43rd in the country. This improvement is being driven by a much better turnover rate (from 21.0 percent to 16.8 percent) and assist rate (from 51.8 percent to 62.1 percent), exhibiting that experience in Cronin’s system carries considerable value. 

When CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein sat down to talk with Cronin about offensive struggles before the season, pointing out that Cincinnati did not have one player who averaged double figure scoring a year ago, the head coach said that Troy Caupain was likely to become that guy. In the team’s first seven games, Caupain (128.1 KenPom offensive rating) has delivered on this notion by averaging just over 10 points per game and shooting about 35 percent from three-point land. Fellow backcourt mate Farad Cobb (130.0 KenPom offensive rating) is helping out as well, scoring 11.6 points per game and shooting a blazing 55 percent from three. The frontcourt has also contributed to some success by being typically aggressive on the offensive boards. Octavius Ellis, who by averaging 7.4 boards per game that includes a 14.2 percent offensive rebounding rate, has gotten some easy putbacks and provides outlet passes to spark fast break points.

Cincinnati has shown so far that it is a typically defensively elite team that is finding some enough offense to be able to make a deep March run. The next few weeks should help to give us a clearer look at the Bearcats, though, as they will take on some improved competition in Xavier, VCU and Iowa State. But for now, don’t sleep on Cincinnati in the American or nationally. The Bearcats are here to stay.

Jared Kotler (9 Posts)

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