The Cincinnati Bearcats are 17-2 and 6-0 in the AAC. They are currently ranked 19th, and will likely move up next week. They are the only AAC team unbeaten in conference play and have won 10-consecutive games.
But head coach Mick Cronin doesn’t care about any of that. The only number he will tell you about is 26. The Bearcats have held 26-straight opponents under 70 points, which leads the country. Only five times this season has Cincy has given up 60 or more points. The most they have given up is 67, in a blow out win over Kennesaw State.
Cronin has done a great coaching job this year. As mentioned, the team is not built around scorers, but athletes. They do not have as much overall talent as some of the other top 20 ranked teams in the country. It is important that the Bearcats impose their will on teams, like they did with Memphis.
Cincinnati is not a flashy or even exciting team to watch sometimes. But they are built to play tough defense and rebound. Many of the Bearcats’ points come off put backs on missed shots or free throws. They also do a tremendous job of protecting the rim. Senior Justin Jackson leads the American Athletic Conference in blocks. In their two losses to New Mexico and Xavier, six-to-eight point deficits felt like 20 for Cincinnati fans. The team simply does not have the offensive firepower to win a shootout or run with fast-paced teams.
The Bearcats’ offense typically consists of dribbling and passing the ball around the 32 seconds, taking an ill-advised shot and putting back misses to earn points. Their offensive problems make their margin for error very slim. The purpose of holding the ball so long is to limit the opposing team’s possessions. Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh in New York earlier this year, with the two team’s combining for 45 possessions, one of the fewest total amounts of the year.
The big problem with Cincinnati and their offense is they do not have a lot of shooters. Cronin has recruited a lot of athletes in Cincinnati, but perhaps not enough shooters. Sean Kilpatrick, the team’s fifth-year senior guard, is shooting just 39 percent from three. He is one of only two players on the Bearcats that average double-digit scoring, Jackson being the other one. The team averages a respectable 71 points per game, which is ranked 202nd in the country.
The Bearcats are in a conference that features high scoring and fast-paced offenses like Memphis, Louisville and Uconn. Cincy already beat Memphis, holding them to just 53 points on the road, 30 points below the team’s season average. Cincinnati still has two games with Louisville, two with UConn and one more with Memphis. If coach Cronin is serious about his team being the best defensive team in the country, these fives games will say a lot about the school.