After #8 Cincinnati (19-2, 8-0 AAC) defeated the Memphis Tigers (13-8, 4-4 AAC) in front of a season-best — by a long shot — 12,000+ fans, Coach Tubby Smith sat at the media table. “We’re capable,” Coach Smith said. “We just need to get more production and be more of a team.” I know this is “coach speak.” I know there’s nothing else Tubby could have reasonably said, but this statement simply ain’t true. Of course this team played hard. Of course this team worked together and refused to get rattled when Cinci extended their lead to nearly 20 points in the first half. Notwithstanding these salient facts, this team isn’t capable of beating good basketball teams that play like good basketball teams.
Final Score: Cincinnati 62, Memphis 48 pic.twitter.com/x6LPTalv58
— American MBB (@American_MBB) January 28, 2018
Mick Cronin Is The Man
I rarely tout opposing coaches, but I was watching late night sports TV — how many people can say that? — and caught a “Men of March” day in the life sort of special on Cincinnati coach, Mick Cronin.
Learn more about the Cincinnati coach by watching Men of March airing on Tuesday at 11:30PM ET on CBS Sports Network. pic.twitter.com/3CByoH5IGa
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 15, 2018
Cronin is a single dad (with custody of his daughter) and he discusses his love of basketball, coaching, his relationships with players (both current and alumni), and the life-threatening brain condition that nearly ended his coaching career in 2015. The special was a heartwarming and introspective look into a guy who is a usually damn bulldog on the sideline. Props to Coach Cronin, he represents all that is good with college basketball. If you pull back those exterior onion layers a la Shrek, he’s a softy inside.
Did We Ever Really Have A Chance?
Eh, not really. The Tigers entered this game allowing 69.7 PPG to opposing teams (116th nationally) while only scoring 70.1 (274th) themselves. Conversely, the Bearcats are only allowing a STINGY 57.4 (!!!) PPG, making Cinci the second best defense in the country. Notably, the Cats barely crack the top 100 in scoring (77.7 PPG) but who needs points when you’re like Scrooge McDuck with handing out buckets? Is this the first year since moving to the American Athletic Conference a Mick Cronin-coached Cinci team can get out of the Round of 32?
Cinci’s defense is particularly important to this match-up since Memphis typically can’t buy consistent makes from three point land (an almost impossibly bad .291%). This allows Cinci to zone up and pack the paint, making it incredibly difficult for Jeremiah Martin to penetrate, and Davenport and Mike Parks to get the ball and get going inside. If the Tigers were ever going to win, they were going to have to overachieve at something in which they’ve only ever underachieved — this is the equivalent of asking Floyd Merriweather to throw a match.
One thing the Tigers do oddly well, however, is crash the offensive boards, ranking 61st nationally in that category — the only category in which they’re top 100. Apparently, every time a shot goes up, Memphis treats a miss like they’re storming the beaches of Normandy. Credit to Tubby for instilling the importance of this “effort stat” into the minds of the players. If only ORBs equated to automatic put-backs or kick-outs to threes as with most teams.
What Happened Happened and Couldn’t Have Happened Any Other Way.
Whelp, as advertised, Memphis made just 3 of its 17 3-PT attempts and shot a season-worst 31.1%. It wasn’t, of course, the beat down that Cinci dealt Memphis nearly a month ago, but the Bearcats completely controlled the game throughout. Though Memphis vastly improved in the second half, the team was ravaged on the boards for most of the game.
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) January 27, 2018
Memphis had no answer for Cinci’s F Gary Clark, who had 18 and 9 boards. Memphis G Jeremiah Martin had 20 points but only a single assist. As I’ve said before, Martin has to play like an All-American for this Tigers team to win. Kareem Brewton added 10 off the bench and has been playing very well for this team — maybe time to throw him back in the starting line-up and see what happens (because hell if I know).
Here’s something, however, that was fun:
Oh my. Kyvon Davenport coast to coast and then jams it home on the break. Memphis comes roaring out of the gates to start 2nd half and cuts Cincinnati lead to 34-28 with 16:23 to go.
— Mark Giannotto (@mgiannotto) January 28, 2018
Here’s something that was also fun #SelfPromotion:
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) January 28, 2018
Mid-way through the second half, a 3 left F Jimario Rivers‘ hand. I watched it go through the net in what I like to call “two-beers-in slow-motion” and suddenly the Tigers were only down four. The team had dug their heels in on defense and made a run of its own — they didn’t give up. A fleeting moment of hope… which passed almost as quickly as it came. The talent disparity reared its ugly head. Cinci countered with an almost surgical run, hitting four straight 3s on consecutive possessions. And that was that, as they (and UC’s beat writer) would say:
'Don't Stop Believing' playing on the overhead here. That's cool, but the game's over.
— Tom Groeschen (@TomGroeschen) January 28, 2018
FOUR TEAM ASSISTS?
This section need not require many words or basketball analysis. Credit to the Cinci defense, but four total assists is inexcusable and shouldn’t be overlooked even though people (Tubby included) seem to be coloring this game as a moral victory.
A Rebuilding Phase?
After the game, Coach Cronin referred to the Tigers being in a “rebuilding phase.” Need I remind everyone that just one short year ago, this team was home to four top 100 players and one more (Nick King) wanted to return home? Imagine a lineup where Jeremiah Martin is far and away the “worst” player? It’s true Memphis is in a rebuilding phase, but this rebuild was unnecessary and self-imposed. Let’s not forget the Will Wades and Bryce Drews of the world have already assembled nationally ranked recruiting classes in the same time it took Tubby to tear an already talented roster apart.
What The Hell Is A Bearcat?
I know you’ve wondered too. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia:
The binturong (/bɪnˈtuːrɒŋ/bin-TOO-rong) (Arctictis binturong), also known as bearcat, is a viverrid native to South and Southeast Asia. It is uncommon in much of its range, and has been assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because of a declining population trend that is estimated at more than 30% over the last three decades.
Although called ‘bearcat’, this omnivorous mammal is related to neither bears nor cats but to the palm civets of Asia. It is a monotypicgenus. Its genus name Arctictis means ‘bear-weasel’, from Greek arkt- ‘bear’ + iktis ‘weasel’.
Okay, got it. Shouts to Cinci for picking a creative, albeit nightmarish, mascot. That thing is scary as shit and looks like it would play good defense if it were to lace ’em up. All in all, makes a lot of sense.
Full Steam Ahead (Hope There’s Not An Iceberg).
Commercial Appeal columnist, Geoff Calkins, adequately summed up the experience of this game:
Crowd is a reminder Memphis basketball can be great. Game is a reminder it's not great now.
— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) January 28, 2018
Memphis plays the first of two-consecutive road games when it takes on the AAC’s bottom dweller South Florida on Wednesday night. Tipoff at 7:30 p.m. A must win, frankly.
LIKE WHAT YOU READ? CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE BARNBURNER HERE.
Follow me on Twitter: @TheBarnChief
[banner image from The Commercial Appeal‘s Mark Weber]