Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Missed Chance at New MexicoPosted by CD Bradley on December 9th, 2013
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
- Every basketball fan understands the concept of the run, where a team strings together a series of defensive stops while scoring points on the other end. The name is appropriate for a team like Louisville, which can put up a dozen straight points in an eye blink. Cincinnati can’t really do that, particularly against a quality foe. What the Bearcats do – when the ferocity of their defense overwhelms the ineptitude of their offense for a while; or for the other team, when it doesn’t – is more like a walk. In the first half on Saturday, New Mexico walked away from Cincinnati in The Pit, outscoring the Bearcats 16-4 over a period of a little more than 10 minutes to take a 27-10 lead. Cincinnati later cut that lead to only two early in the second half, but never got it all the way back to even. The Bearcats have never been a good offensive team under Mick Cronin (KenPom had UC ranked #64 in offensive efficiency coming into the game, which would be near the top of the Cronin era), but no matter the quality of your defense, beating a good team on the road is going to be nearly impossible when you shoot 29.5 percent and score around 0.9 points per possession, as Cincinnati did in this game.
- That said, the defense wasn’t good enough on Saturday either. Cincinnati was ranked #9 in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4), #12 in effective field goal defense (42.1 percent) and #2 in turnover percentage (27.5 percent) coming into the game. New Mexico brought thoroughly mediocre ranks in effective field goal offense (#128) and turnover percentage (#100), so a path to victory for the Bearcats had to include getting stops and turning over the Lobos. The Bearcats did force 15 turnovers, roughly one out of every four possessions, which might have been enough on its own had they also not allowed New Mexico to shoot 50 percent from the field. Moreover, they couldn’t get those stops when it counted. After cutting a 12-point lead down to seven with 3:29 remaining, Cincinnati allowed New Mexico to score on its next three possessions. The first of those possessions lasted 61 seconds, thanks to an offensive rebound more than 30 seconds into the shot clock that allowed another 20-plus seconds to run off. The last of those scores made it a 13-point game with a minute left, putting things out of reach.
- That key New Mexico offensive rebound underscored another lost opportunity for Cincinnati. Perhaps because they have so many opportunities, the Bearcats are a great offensive rebounding team (ranking #4 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage), but they are simultaneously terrible at defensive rebounding (#274). Relying on the former while overcoming the latter would have been key to getting the win in Albuquerque, but Cincinnati allowed a higher percentage of offensive boards to New Mexico (39.3 percent) than it claimed (34.9). Even when they did manage to claim some offensive boards, they struggled to capitalize; down 45-38 with about 9:26 left in the game, they had three shots at the rim thanks to offensive rebounds by Jermaine Lawrence and Kevin Johnson, but missed all three and gave up a runaway layup to extend the deficit to seven. It never got closer than five points for the rest of the game.
- As we have pointed out before, Cincinnati’s early-season schedule lacked a certain amount of quality, and they were able to take advantage of it by starting 7-0. That changed Saturday – New Mexico and San Diego State are the class of the Mountain West – and the Bearcats dropped their first game as a result. Their next two games are perhaps even tougher — neutral court match-ups against crosstown rival Xavier and former conference foe Pittsburgh. A failure to beat Pitt at Madison Square Garden on December 17 would make it likely that they will reach AAC play without a single top-100 RPI win, which may of course come back to haunt them in March.