If you were ever going to introduce college basketball to a casual observer you likely wouldn’t start with Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats. It’s not that Cincinnati isn’t a good team or doesn’t deserve your attention, but they aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch.
Storming into the FedEx Forum — with its announced crowd of 17,191 — the Bearcats took their first lead of the game on its final possession of the first half and blew past No. 18 Memphis in the second half on its way to a 69-53 road win in an American Athletic Conference game.
The Bearcats frequently had stagnant offensive possessions — riddled with isolations, minimal movement and bad shots — but they crashed the offensive glass and cleaned up misses like crazy for second-chance points and the Bearcats never, ever stopped playing hard.
Cincinnati’s defense and physicality was clearly a problem for Memphis. Tigers’ freshman big man Austin Nichols barely played after starting and sat the whole second half — was he intimidated? — and Shaq Goodwin was rather ineffective as well.
But the Bearcat defense really did a number on the Memphis guards. The Tigers shot 2-for-17 from the three-point line and Mike Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford combined to go 7-for-35 from the field. As Memphis frequently went to three- and four-guard lineups, Cincinnati packed their defense in and dared Memphis to make jumpers. When the Memphis guards didn’t settle for jumpers, they were met in the paint by multiple Bearcat defenders going for one of Cincinnati’s 10 blocks and 12 steals.
The Tigers couldn’t hit anything, shooting 33 percent from the field and 24 percent in the second half, and Cincinnati cruised in the second half.
The guard-heavy lineups for Memphis also meant they were going to have a major disadvantage against the Bearcats inside. Cincinnati continued to attack the basket and was able to score inside at will in the second half on Memphis. Sean Kilpatrick had 11 of his 18 in the second half and Justin Jackson (13 points) and Shaquille Thomas (10 points) also played well in the second half. Mick Cronin also has to be thrilled with freshman point guard Troy Caupain coming off the bench and running the offense to the tune of five assists and one turnover while also scoing seven points.
Cincinnati was actually out-rebounded by 41-38 Memphis for the game — and 17-11 on the offensive glass — but second-chance points were huge for the Bearcats. And because of Cincinnati’s propensity to hit the offensive glass hard, Memphis had to send more men to the defensive glass and it prevented them from getting out in transition as much as they would have liked.
Cincinnati brought Big East basketball to The American and made Memphis look like it was prepared for another season in Conference USA.
Mick Cronin’s team isn’t going to beat elite teams on paper, but they’re tough as nails and don’t shy away from their gameplan. Because of this, Cincinnati is 13-2 and capable of grinding out physical road wins in conference play by imposing their will. As long as Cincinnati can dictate tempo, they’re going to be a dangerous team in The American and beyond.