With a soft early season schedule mostly in the rear view mirror after a convincing 99-54 victory over Georgia Southern in the books, many questions remain for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Most center around if the team will be ready for the rigors of Big East play after facing so many lower level D1 programs on the way to a 9-0 record. While those concerns are valid, the reality is this unit has done all that has been asked of them leading up to the road trip to take on Oklahoma Saturday evening.
Head coach Mick Cronin has talked about what his team can do to improve against the weaker teams on the schedule, and it centers around building good habits that become who you are night in and night out both in games and on the practice floor, and that was on full display against Georgia Southern.
The Bearcats converted on 55.6% of their field goal attempts on the way to a 99-point performance, but it wasn't just the high point total that jumps off the page. They converted on 35 of 63 attempts from the field and did so by sharing the basketball and getting it in the hands of the guy with the best opportunity to score. That's clear by the fact there were 26 assists on the 35 buckets and each of the 11 scholarship players that saw action converted at least one field goal attempt.
While it's easy to put up that type of performance in a one game snap shot, the last 5 games show a growing trend. Against Utah Valley there were 17 assists on 32 field goals. Toledo saw 22 of 31, 18 of 28 against Wright St and 17 of 22 against Dayton. In each of those games there is an assist on at worst 50% of the baskets made, and that type of unselfishness is how you keep everyone on the floor involved and ready to put the ball in the basket when it is their time to shine.
Sharing the ball at a high level has to start out top, and point guard Cashmere Wright is setting the tone with 23 assists and only 6 turnovers in that 5 game stretch. Wright knows that having the ability to dish it to anyone on the floor is vital to his success.
“I think it makes it easier knowing that anyone on the floor can score,” Wright said. “You aren’t deferring to one person. Anyone that is open you can throw the ball to, and they will make the shot.”
That really seems to be the key difference in this group when compared to the other 4 squads of the Mick Cronin era. The trust level is high in everyone that takes the court being able to make the play when their number is called instead of looking for the top one or two options. Some of that is simple maturity that comes with growing older, and some is going through the close loses that doomed what started as a promising season a year ago. Cronin sees both as factors in this team being hungry to prove they now belong.
“A lot of that has to do with the guys in the locker room taking ownership of why we lost close games last year,” Cronin said. “Because of what we went through together, it has made them better. Now they are easier to coach because they understand the things they did wrong that cost us some games and the NCAA Tournament. It’s not Lance and Deonta being gone, its guys taking ownership. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It isn’t an overnight process for every team.
The Bearcats can continue to build with a win at Oklahoma on Saturday, and in the process keep on track to making their mark by returning to the NCAA Tournament in March.