Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.
Maybe this should be “WINNER: Sean Kilpatrick.” But I don’t know if that’s fair to his teammates. Sure, offensively, the Bearcats were the Sean Kilpatrick Show this week, as they have been all season; the senior guard has led them in scoring in 19 of 22 games. But by more than just Kilpatrick’s accomplishments, Cincinnati has gotten to 20-2 this season, including back-to-back road wins against Temple and Louisville to go to 9-0 in the AAC. In Sunday’s 80-76 win against the Owls, Bearcats guard Troy Caupain had eight points and nine assists, and forward Shaquille Thomas had 15 points to complement Kilpatrick’s season-high 29 points and team-high eight rebounds. And in Thursday’s 69-66 win over the Cardinals, Thomas and fellow forward Justin Jackson both scored 11 points to complement Kilpatrick’s 28, which came with five rebounds. But what makes Cincinnati more than Kilpatrick and more than their secondary performances on offense, is its stingy defense. The Bearcats are in the top 10 nationally in steal rate, block rate and two-point field goal rate, and five players force steals on more than 2.5 percent of their possessions. The best ball thief is Jackson, who ranks in the top 50 nationally in steal rate, while also ranking in the top 50 in offensive rebounding rate and in the top 10 in block rate. Cincinnati’s only losses this season came on the road at New Mexico and to crosstown rival Xavier, and they’ve won 12 in a row, five of those on the road. Perhaps its time to treat them as a top-tier team nationally.
(Related winners: Kilpatrick; the American Athletic Conference, which has a surprisingly good number of teams that includes Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Larry Brown’s SMU; Related losers: Louisville, which lost despite forcing 20 turnovers in a 65-possession game; Temple, which blew a 33-point performance from senior guard Dalton Pepper.)