After a 67-52 loss to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome it was easy to see the start of each half left the Cincinnati Bearcats in too much of a hole to overcome. The Orange opened the game with an 18-3 lead only to see the Cats chip away to make it 35-31 at the half. All of that hard work to cut into the lead was once again erased by a 16-0 run to start the 2nd half and effectively put the game on ice for the #4 team in the country.
The sluggish performance out of the locker room even had head coach Mick Cronin contemplating changes to his starting lineup in the post game radio interview. To give a clearer picture of how the team has done to start each half lets take a look at how the team has performed from the start of action over 5 games leading up to the most recent loss. That includes the games against DePaul, Seton Hall, Xavier, Villanova and South Florida. To give the most accurate look at just the performance of the starting unit we will use the 1st media time out of each half as the cut off point.
DePaul: 1st Half- Trailed 6-3 at the 14:51 mark. 2nd Half- Lead 40-21 at the break and increased lead to 51-32 at the 15:08 media stop.
Obviously a really rough patch to start the game scoring only 3 points in 5:09 of action, and the type of showing that got them blitzed against a much more talented Syracuse squad. The offensive showing to start the 2nd half was solid with 11 points, but giving up 11 makes it a wash. Combined they were outscored by DePaul 17-14 combined.
Seton Hall: 1st Half- Led 13-7 at first stop with 15:57 on the clock. 2nd Half- 35-29 lead at half was at 39-33 by the stop at 15:49.
Nice jump out early with 13 points in 4 minutes that saw 4 of 5 starters put up points. Things were even, and slow, to start the 2nd at 4-4 for a combined 17-11 total.
Xavier: 1st Half: Xavier led 6-4 at the 15:57 mark in the 1st. 28-20 lead at the half was at 35-27 when play was stopped with 15:52 remaining in the game.
Once again the Bearcats got off to a sluggish start with 4 points in 4 minutes of action. Solid production out of the locker room in the 2nd with 7 points, but X played even and led the early portions of each stanza 13-11.
Villanova: 1st Half- UC led 6-3 when time stopped at 15:56. 2nd Half- Trailing 39-23 at the break UC cut the lead to 49-36 at the 15:12 mark.
Things looked promising out of the gate as the Cats jumped out early and looked solid. The 13-10 push in the 2nd allowed UC to start clawing back after collapsing in the final 9 minutes of the 1st. The 2nd half push makes it a aolid 19-13 score combined.
USF: 1st Half- Cats were up 5-4 with 15:49 remaining. 37-32 lead at half was increased by 1 at 44-38 at the 15:51 mark.
Yet another grind to get things started with 5 in 4 out of the gate. Solid again in the 2nd with 7 to stem a USF push to cut the lead right out of the half. 12-10 overall in the early segments.
Totals: 1st Half- UC led 31-26 combined. 2nd Half- Cats held a 42-38 edge. Overall- 73-64 UC.
So what does it all mean? In the grand scheme of things it is not unusual to see teams start slow in the early going and that is played out here on both sides as the teams feel each other out and look for what the opponent is trying to take away. It went as expected in the 2nd half as the game is in the flow and the scoring increased by a good margin.
While we could see some changes to the starting rotation by the Wednesday game at Notre Dame, the one that stands out to everyone might not be as obvious when you look at how Rashad Bishop has produced to start the game. The usually passive senior does seem to look for his shot early and produced 10 of the 31 total points from the opening tip to the 1st media timeout for 32.2% of the overall production.
With that in mind, is it really going to change much to insert Sean Kilpatrick into the starting rotation and decrease his value as a spark off the bench? Maybe the play is to continue to start Bishop, but turn to the red-shirt freshman out of half time when Bishop has started to focus more on D and not look to score as aggressively.
The other most likely change is to start Darnell Wilks over Ibrahima Thomas and allow for more energy and pressure on the floor from the get go. This would also allow Thomas to avoid an early foul here and there, and give the Cats a rebounding presence off the bench that they are lacking with the current set up.
What the numbers ultimately show is that the performance today was not the norm simply because the Bearcats defense has been able to hold the opponent down while the offense started to get rolling. They obviously would love more production to start the game, but have been pretty solid out of the half. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Cronin decides to make when they visit the Irish and look for that signature road win to add to the resume.