— Alex Frank (@alexcincy) November 28, 2018
Alex Frank | Sports Director
Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball head coach Mick Cronin said Monday at his press conference leading up to Tuesday night’s game vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff that there were areas where the Bearcats could improve.
While this team is far from a finished product, Tuesday night at Fifth Third Arena seemingly saw the Bearcats put everything together in a 105-49 win over the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions, their best performance of the season thus far.
“Any time you step on the floor, you’re trying to have kids show that they’re improving in the areas that they need to improve,” Cronin said. “We did a lot of that tonight. We still got a lot of areas that we need to improve on.”
If this game is any indication of how good the Bearcats can be and they keep making improvements, get excited Bearcat Nation.
Now, I know just as well as any of you reading this column about getting your hopes up and having the “Cincinnati Curse” crushing them, but I think the curse will only prolong if you don’t get your hopes up.
You can’t let it completely defeat getting your hopes up for any sports team in the Queen City.
I’m here to tell you all that each of you has the right to be excited about this Bearcats team, and there isn’t any pressure on this team to win a national championship, get to the Final Four, win the conference tournament or even a regular-season championship.
The only thing the Bearcats have to do is go out every game and get better to ensure they are playing their best basketball come March.
It’s always defense first with Mick Cronin
No matter how high-scoring the Bearcats offense is, Cronin will always preach and prioritize defense.
That was a critical component to tonight’s game as the Bearcats were going up against Golden Lions senior guard Martaveous McKnight, who came in with the fourth-highest scoring average in the nation at 28 points per game.
Tuesday night saw him only get a quarter of his average on a dismal 2-11 shooting performance, including 0-5 from beyond the perimeter.
The lopsided win allowed the Bearcats to work on different elements on the defensive side of the ball throughout the game.
“Just certain things defensively in our communication that we’re trying to practice and get better at,” Cronin said. “We tried to work on [pressing] tonight in the first half, we worked on it yesterday in practice. Just an area where I think we can continue to improve as a team in our anticipation off the ball and our hands in the passing lane.”
Cincinnati also turned defense into offense as their 31 turnovers correlated into 45 points.
Four of Cincinnati’s 13 steals were coralled by freshman guard Logan Johnson, and Cronin thinks it’s rare for a freshman to come in and make the impact he’s made defensively.
“Logan’s a superior athlete,” Cronin said. “Great advantage when I don’t have to sell Logan Johnson on the importance of defense. He’s got unbelievable quickness and athleticism. He’s going to be a great player.”
Balanced scoring effort
Six players wound up in double figures for the Bearcats, with senior guard Justin Jenifer leading the way with 13 points.
The Bearcats also had the closest margin of point differential between the starters and the bench when there’s an odd total number of points: a single point.
Of the 105 total points scored by the Bearcats Tuesday night, 53 came from the bench and 52 came from the starters.
You know it’s a special night when redshirt-freshman forward Mamoudou Diara scores nine points, including a three-point field goal, and junior and former walk-on reserve Sam Martin scores five points.
Junior guard/forward and junior-college Rashawn Fredericks talked after the game about how in a game like Tuesday night, he doesn’t worry about when it’s his turn.
“To be honest I’m not worried about that stuff,” freshman guard Rashawn Fredericks said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just another day to get better in the gym or do whatever.”
Now the real fun begins
There won’t be another game like this.
Can the Bearcats win by 56 again? Absolutely. Just don’t expect that to happen, especially with the schedule getting tougher.
That toughness begins Saturday when the Bearcats travel out west to the Sin City to take on the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels Saturday at 6 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
“I think we need to improve on our offensive rebounding more,” junior forward Tre Scott said. “We can improve on that as a team, just controlling the glass each and every game no matter who we’re playing.”
Another wrinkle thrown in the first true-road game is that the Bearcats will also be traveling across multiple time zones with Las Vegas being in the Pacific Time Zone, three hours behind Cincinnati.
“Every road game is tough,” Cronin said. “I have the best trainer strength coach combination in the country so I just kind of do what they tell me. I ask them how we should handle stuff. What we’re doing is going Thursday. We’ll practice Thursday and then fly out. We’ll practice at UNLV on Friday so that it gives you a chance to adjust.
“It’s hard to win on the road, and this group this is our first road game, so we got handle a road trip professionally, in a business manner. Understand that everybody’s tough at home, people don’t go away at home. You got to play some road games to get ready for your conference.”
The Bearcats will also play at Mississippi State on Saturday, December 15 ahead of their conference schedule, which begins Wednesday, January 2, 2019 against Tulane.
I’ve been saying constantly in my columns or on my sports show at Bearcast Media to enjoy the journey with this team.
So far that journey has featured a season-opening loss at home against Ohio State but then the Bearcats rebounding to win six straight games including the Emerald Coast Classic over Thanksgiving weekend.
Now the Bearcats will look to go big in Las Vegas in their first true road game of the 2018-19 season.