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The Morning Dish – Thursday, February 1, 2018

February 1, 2018 The Morning Dish 2 Comments

Of all the teams near the top of the rankings-scratch that, in the top 25 rankings at all-Cincinnati has been the mystery team of this season. And while the Bearcats will still be that for some time for many, they at least should have answered some questions Wednesday night.

A sign that this Cincinnati team is different from other previous ones under Mick Cronin-and just might be worthy of its ranking-came in the form of the Bearcats’ biggest comeback in Cronin’s tenure at the school. Trailing Houston by 18 points in the first half, Cincy roared back for an 80-70 win, extending its home winning streak to 38 games.

The story on the Bearcats this year has been that they appear to be a Final Four contender to some, look like they haven’t beaten much of anyone to others. And the worst part is there’s just not much they can do about it. Still, Cincinnati has just continued to slide up the rankings as others have lost around it, working its way into the top 10.

On Wednesday, the Bearcats were punched in the mouth by what is proving to be an underrated Houston team. The Cougars stuck to Cincy defensively, displayed good depth on their frontline and off the bench (freshman Fabian White scored 10 points early and was one of the best players on the court) and hit one clutch shot after another. It was 28-13 just past the midway point of the first half, and Houston extended the lead to 18 soon after.

The Cougars still led by 14 with two minutes left in the first half, but that’s when the game turned. Foul trouble throughout the first half started to take a toll on Houston, but the Bearcats also picked their game up another notch. Over the final 23 minutes, Cincinnati held Houston to 30 points, including just 12 points over nearly 13 minutes in the second half.

Just as impressive, the Bearcats shot 54.5% the rest of the way, showing they can take their game to another level offensively. Kyle Washington-who was nearly silent in the first half-scored 14 in the second half alone, and the trio of Washington, Jarron Cumberland and Jacob Evans combined for 34 points in the final 20 minutes. Defense is rarely a question for Cincinnati, but when it shows the ability to rally from deficits and shoot at a high rate, then this team is a whole different ballgame from most Bearcat teams we’ve seen in recent years.

Like itself and SMU a year ago, there’s only so much Cincinnati will be able to do to prove its worth in the regular season-a non-conference schedule that didn’t turn out as well as hoped and the American Athletic Conference’s relative struggles again are ensuring as much. A win like this one, though, can only help making the Bearcats more battle-hardened for March-the only time that perceptions of them will matter.

Side Dishes:

  • Trae Young will almost certainly be the Big 12 player of the year (ESPN will likely mandate as much, if there’s any doubt about it). If one hasn’t thought about it already, though, it’s time to take a look at Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans as a contender for the award, too. Evans put up his third straight big offensive performance and his biggest yet with 38 points, including the game-winning 18-footer at the buzzer of overtime to defeat Texas 73-71.
  • Also in the Big 12, time to start being a bit concerned about West Virginia. The Mountaineers were handled at Iowa State 93-77, and that’s now five losses in their last six games, none as concerning as this one. Some of it was undoubtedly the Cyclones wanting to put forth a better effort than they did in a 23-point home loss to Tennessee on Saturday, but just as much was WVU permitting 62% shooting, an inexcusable number for a team as disruptive typically as the Mountaineers are.
  • Michigan State rebounded from a bad first half to defeat Penn State 76-68, with a switch at point guard keying the Spartans. Coach Tom Izzo benched Cassius Winston at the start of the second half in favor of Lourawls (Tum Tum) Nairn, and it sure seemed to spark Winston, who finished with 15 points and 10 assists. This still wasn’t a flawless showing for State by any means-there were still too many turnovers, and the halfcourt offense was horrendous in the first half.
  • Bradley is back, and the Missouri Valley Conference is going to be better for it. Playing their biggest home game in years, the Braves defeated league-leading Loyola (Ill.) 69-67 for their 14th straight home victory. Bradley led much of the way but had to withstand a late Ramblers charge and a final shot attempt as Loyola didn’t get a shot off in the final 10 seconds. Very nice win for the Braves, who are now just a game out of first in the MVC. We noted Bradley’s up-and-coming status during last year’s MVC Tournament, and it sure is fun to watch this program continue to grow.
  • Alabama defeated Oklahoma on Saturday. And how did the Crimson Tide follow up that performance? By throwing up a complete clunker at home, falling to Missouri 69-60. The Tigers out-toughed Bama on the boards (37-27 advantage). Also, a disturbing statistic for the Tide: just six assists.
  • Virginia and Purdue just keep rolling along. The Cavaliers proved that defense can have off nights, too, but still topped Louisville 74-64 despite the Cardinals shooting 50%. Purdue also extended its winning streak to 18 with a 75-67 win over Maryland, as Isaac Haas scored 20 and added nine boards.
  • A pair of ACC teams took damaging losses. Shorthanded Syracuse in particular doesn’t have a lot of margin of error to operate with if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament, and even less now after falling 55-51 at Georgia Tech, which went old school and employed a very Bobby Cremins-like six-man rotation. Also, Florida State fell at Wake Forest 76-72, a loss not fatal to the Seminoles but not helpful. A third team escaped with a road win as Virginia Tech won at Boston College 85-80 in overtime. Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker had maybe the biggest game of his season yet with 18 points, including a three-pointer to break a tie late in overtime.
  • Two Big East games that were very promising on paper instead were surprisingly blowouts. Seton Hall easily handled rusty Providence 73-57, with the Pirates’ five starters all showing well and totaling all but two of the team’s points. Then, Butler ripped Marquette 92-72 on the road in Milwaukee to finish off a sweep of the Golden Eagles this year. Tyler Wideman scored a career-high 23 points and the Bulldogs shot 60% and led by as much as 30 midway through the second half. And that was a performance that screamed ‘NIT’ for Marquette.
  • Nevada outscored Fresno State 102-92 in a tilt that was fun but also had about as much defense as an NBA game. Both teams shot better than 58%. Six of the seven Wolf Pack players to play scored in double figures.
  • Also in the Mountain West, Wyoming outlasted Colorado State 91-86 in double overtime. Incredibly, it was the Cowboys’ third straight overtime game and their sixth this season, and even more incredible-Wyoming has won all six. That ties an NCAA Division I record for OT wins in a season, and there’s still plenty of time left to break it.
  • Don’t count out UC Irvine in the Big West yet. The Anteaters went on the road and knocked off league-leading Long Beach State 75-68 in another quality installment in the underrated Black & Blue Rivalry. Sophomore guard Evan Leonard erupted for 30 for a very young UCI team.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • The night gets off to an early start, and the Northeast Conference gets things started on TV. St. Francis (Pa.) was just on national television six days earlier-where it was spanked at home by Wagner by 30 points. The Red Flash do get a second chance, hosting Fairleigh Dickinson (6 p.m., CBSSN). It’s actually the first of two NEC games on a major network, as later LIU is at Sacred Heart (9 p.m., ESPNU).
  • No. 1 Villanova is back home, hosting Creighton (6:30 p.m., FS1). The Bluejays still sit solidly in third in the Big East and certainly have enough offense to test the Wildcats.
  • Wichita State has another tricky road trip in the American, playing at Temple (7 p.m., ESPN2). One just never knows when the Owls might heat up this year, and there will be inspiration with the school honoring the great 1987-88 Mark Macon-led Elite Eight team. An hour later, SMU is at Tulsa (8 p.m., CBSSN), also a road test for the Mustangs that they probably can’t afford to lose.
  • Two of the three tri-leaders in the CAA meet in a biggie with College of Charleston at Northeastern. The Cougars have won four straight and handled the Huskies by 16 points three weeks ago with a boffo offensive performance, shooting 60%.
  • The Big South gets a showcase as Gardner-Webb is at Radford (7 p.m. ESPNU). These are two of five teams separated by one game at the top of the league.
  • There’s a big one in Conference USA as Middle Tennessee State plays at Old Dominion. While MTSU and Western Kentucky have justifiably received a good chunk of attention this year, the Monarchs are no slouch and have won 11 of their last 12. Both have very underrated talent, and the coaching matchup of Kermit Davis and Jeff Jones is superb as well.
  • Montana continues to speed out ahead of the pack in the Big Sky, but the Grizzlies have a good test at Northern Colorado. Enjoy the matchup of the Ahmaad Rorie for the Griz against UNC’s Andre Spight.
  • Arizona State and Washington were 8 and 11 seeds, respectively, in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament, yet this year meet with growing stakes Thursday (11 p.m., Pac-12 Network). The Huskies in particular have a huge weekend; they’ve been one of the surprises of the season, and though they lack much for marquee wins, chances at home against the Sun Devils and then Arizona on Saturday can do a great deal to change that.
  • Bay Area Catholic rivals square off again as San Francisco is at Saint Mary’s (11 p.m., ESPNU). The Gaels should be OK playing at McKeon Pavilion, but the Dons have shown on plenty of occasions this year that they can be competitive with excellent teams and gave Gonzaga a good push in Spokane last weekend.
  • Finally, Hawaii is at UC Santa Barbara in another important Big West tilt. These were two of the four league teams tied for the top in the loss category with two losses entering this week. The Rainbow Warriors won the first meeting on the island by a single point, and UCSB’s two Big West losses are by a combined two points; Hawaii’s two Ls by a total of four points.

Have a great Thursday.

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Justin Berg says:

    Thanks for giving some love to the Bearcats. And you’re right, Houston is definitely underrated. Deep, experienced team with multiple shotmakers and a great coach. Wouldn’t want to see them in March.

    • Adam Glatczak says:

      Belated thanks Justin. Personally been high on UC all year, Cougars’ first half made me a little nervous about that but that was a big-time comeback against a really good team, capable of winning some games, maybe even being a surprise Sweet 16 in March.

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