The Bearcats basketball team came into the season with high expectations for the season. With head coach Mick Cronin returning to the sidelines and 8 players coming back from a season in which the Bearcats played well against a tough undefeated Kentucky team in the tournament it was expected for expectations to rise. It speaks to the reason why the Bearcats received 63 votes to be in the AP Top 25 during the preseason poll in November.
The Bearcats started off the season hot. They went 7-0 to start the season on their way to winning the Barclays Center Classic. They were playing as advertised and looking like a top 10 team in the nation. One of the biggest keys to their success was bench production. During their seven game winning streak to start the season the Bearcats outscored all of their opponents by a total of 102 points in all seven games combined. Leading the way was hometown junior guard Kevin Johnson with his playmaking ability and freshman guard Jacob Evans draining 3-point shots.
At that point in the season it was easy to recognize the recipe for success was for the bench to produce at a high level. The Bearcats bench is talented with others as well not just Evans and Johnson. Coreontae DeBerry is a proven low post scorer. Justin Jenifer, despite being a freshman is arguably the best ball handler on the team. Quadri Moore can rebound the basketball and defend at a high level. So, after the Bearcats started the season so well many fans are wondering why they are struggling over the last two games after the 7-1 start. Look no further than the bench production.
So let’s look at the Crosstown Shootout game. A game which the Bearcats lost 65-55 and in that game they lost in bench points battle 17-10. Losing by 10 it’s natural to think if the bench production was better they would have had a better chance to win the game. Fast forward to Tuesday’s matchup with Norfolk State, Cincinnati lost in the bench point battle 32-17. That’s ridiculous to think Norfolk State bench is better than the boys from Clifton. That’s part of the reason that game was unexpectedly close at halftime with the Bearcats only winning by 8.
So moving forward if the Bearcats want to continue to have success they must get more consistent bench production. You can’t continue to depend on the starters to carry the load night in and night out. All of the teams who have deep tournament runs are teams who have depth after the starting five. If this team wants to have success when it matters most in March the bench as a whole must improve their play.