Corey Davis Jr. finished with 16 points and Rob Gray, who struggled with his shot for much of the night, made two big jumpers in the final two minutes as Houston landed a critical win over No. 5 Cincinnati, 67-62, on Thursday night.
Houston entered the day on the bubble, a loss to Drexel at home and a loss at Tulane dragging down a profile that otherwise is solid. Beating the Bearcats, however, means that the Cougars are now 4-2 against Quadrant 1 opponents with six total wins against the top two Quadrants. That, combined with a strong RPI and a 20-5 record, is probably enough to put them fairly comfortable on the right side of the bubble.
The bigger story here, however, is that Cincinnati took a loss for the first time since Dec. 9th, when they played Florida in Newark, N.J. That game after the Bearcats were absolutely manhandled by Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout, meaning that Cincinnati has lost three of the four games where they played an NCAA tournament tournament; if you want to count UCLA as a tournament team, Cincinnati did win in LA, but the Bruins are going to be right there on the cut-line until Selection Sunday.
That leads me to the biggest issue with the Bearcats, one that was on full display on Thursday night: This team has struggled when they’ve faced objectively good basketball teams, and that is because they struggle to score the ball. The Bearcats are ranked 53rd on KenPom in adjusted offensive efficiency, but you cannot convince that those numbers aren’t inflated by playing in the American.
This group just doesn’t have guys that scare an opposing coach that is trying to scheme defensively. On Thursday night, the Bearcats shot a robust 37 percent from the floor and 4-for-15 from three, including banking in a shot at the buzzer to cut the lead to five points.
Now credit where it is due: Houston is a top 25 team on KenPom that was playing on their home floor. This is not Chaminade beating No. 1 Virginia. This is the third-best team in a league beating the league’s best team on their home floor. That happens all the time in college basketball. In the last 24 hours alone, Villanova lost at Providence and Purdue lost at Wisconsin.
It is what it is.
These are the things that make this sport great.
But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that a team that hasn’t played well in their limited games against quality competition and a team that has had bouts of offensive ineptitude played a good team in a tough environment and struggled with offensive ineptitude.