Cincinnati appears to be limping into the NCAA tournament, having lost seven of 11 games heading into Friday’s second-round game against Creighton.
Scratch the surface, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said, and there’s a reason for that skid.
“We’ve played multiple games in a row against NCAA tournament teams,” Cronin told reporters after the pairing was announced. “We played seven straight in February against tournament teams. I count UConn in that group, even though they didn’t get to go because of the sanctions.
“Outside of South Florida, we haven’t played a non-tournament team since January. Playing in the Big East, we understand that every game is going to be tough.”
The Bearcats’ most recent loss in their 22-11 season came in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament when Georgetown posted a 62-43 victory. That game, Cronin said, illustrates why his team is looking forward to seeing some fresh faces in the NCAA tournament.
“Our Georgetown game was a rough day for us, the way it was officiated,” Cronin said. “We are not a rough-and-tumble team. I’ve been looking forward to the tournament where it might not be quite the football game that you see in Big East play or Big Ten play.
“We’re more of an athletic, finesse team. We’re not built to play in a tug-of-war, football-type of game underneath the basket. Georgetown is a tough team but our effort was tremendous. Our attitude has been great all year.”
So has the Bearcats’ defense. Cincinnati ranks 24th nationally in scoring defense, having allowed an average of 58.8 points per game. The Bearcats are 15th in field-goal percentage defense (.385) and 26th in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (.300).
They also rank sixth in blocked shots (6.2 per game) and 19th in rebounding margin (plus-6.5).
In the rough patch at the end of the season, only one Cincinnati opponent — Connecticut — has scored more than 67 points. The Huskies, who are not allowed to participate in the postseason this season because of academic deficiencies, scored 73 in a Feb. 21 win.
The Bearcats have held 20 of their 33 opponents to 60 points or fewer this season. Unfortunately, they’ve experienced some scoring problems of their own down the stretch that have contributed to the 4-7 finish.
Opponents have held Cincinnati to an average of 55.4 points in the last 11 games. The Bearcats have twice been held in the 40s and scored in the 50s in four other games.
“Our team has felt a lot of mounting pressure, with the seven straight brutal games in February and ‘Cash’ playing on one leg,” Cronin said. “We’ve been trying to hang in there and get to the tournament.
“I like the way we played in New York, and hopefully we can continue to get better for Friday.”
“Cash” is senior guard Cashmere Wright, who came to Cincinnati as a top-15 national recruit. Despite playing with knee and shoulder injuries, Wright leads the Bearcats in assists and is averaging 12.6 points per game.
That’s second behind junior guard Sean Kilpatrick’s 16.9 average. Those two, along with senior guard JaQuon Parker (11.3 average), have combined to make 190 of Cincinnati’s 225 3-pointers.
The Bearcats are shooting 31.7 percent from behind the arc and 40.2 percent overall.
“We’ve had to stare adversity in the face in order to be standing here in March,” Cronin said. “Now, we’re going to go have fun. We’re just happy we’re in.”
The trip to the tournament will be Cincinnati’s third straight, with the Bearcats advancing to the Sweet 16 last season.
“Any time you can make the NCAA tournament, it’s a great achievement for your program,” Cronin said. “If you can make it multiple years in a row, it builds your tradition. It’s almost expected in this part of the country but it’s not a God-given right.
“It’s a tough thing to do, especially when you’re banging through the Big East. It’s hard to do, and there are a lot of teams in the Big East that would love to go to three straight NCAA tournaments. These types of leagues can eat you alive, so I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Contact the writer:
402-679-2298, email@example.com; twitter.com/PivOWH