Bearcats in the doghouse after 3 straight losses

Last week Mick Cronin referred to this juncture of the season as the “Dog days”, in reference to the bumps and bruises and general malaise that sets in after a two-month grind. But following three consecutive losses the Bearcats clearly were residing in Cronin’s dog house.   

“Right now, I don’t want to be around them,” Cronin said following Saturday’s loss at Rutgers. “I’m about as embarrassed to be the coach of this team as I’ve ever been. I’m miserable.”

It’s difficult to point to one aspect that has contributed to the Bearcats’ recent slide but one that stands out is 3-point shooting. UC evolved into a 3-point shooting team while its three big men were suspended following the December brawl with Xavier. Since then the Bearcats’ fortunes appear to hinge on their success beyond the arc.      

If there ever was a team that live and dies by the 3-point shot it’s this one. UC leads the Big East Conference in 3-point shooting percentage at 36.5 percent, but ranks last in the league in overall field goal percentage. In its past three games UC has shot 27 percent from 3-point range (21-for-78), all losses.

Cronin’s tirade had been simmering for more than a week. The loss at West Virginia was in overtime in a tough environment on the road and against former UC head coach Bob Huggins. In the loss to Syracuse the Bearcats held the lead for much of the game until the Orange closed it out with a 16-5 run. And Syracuse was 20-0 and ranked No. 1 less than 48 hours before.

But the trends continued on Saturday when the Bearcats dropped a 61-54 decision to Rutgers, a team with a sub-.500 Big East record that they’d beaten five straight times. Cronin didn’t want to discuss 3-point shooting, but rather that they were outrebounded 32-21 and committed 14 turnovers.

It’s a good time for the Bearcats to have a week off. They don’t play again until Feb. 4 when they host DePaul. So six days to exit Cronin’s dog house.

NOTES, QUOTES

Despite injuries, Kilpatrick keeps streak alive

–Sean Kilpatrick has been playing through a groin pull which occurred in the Jan. 14 game at Villanova and a hip pointer that happened a week later at West Virginia. Despite the nagging injuries Kilpatrick maintained a streak of 21 straight games with a made 3-pointer. Kilpatrick leads the Big East Conference with 2.8 3-pointers per game through Jan. 28. He has scored in double figures in 19 of 22 contests.  

–Senior G Dion Dixon responded with a team-leading 17 points in a Jan. 28 loss at Rutgers after a sub-par 5-point outing in the loss to Syracuse. Dixon earned Big East Conference player of the week honors on Jan. 16 after scoring a season-high 22 points in wins at then-No. 11 Georgetown and vs. Villanova.

–While UC has primarily been a perimeter team of late, Yancy Gates has made the most of his opportunities in the middle. Gates had 16 points and eight rebounds Jan. 28 in a loss at Rutgers, making it five straight games in double figures for the senior forward who’s had three double-doubles in that stretch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5.7 — Average margin of defeat for Cincinnati in consecutive losses to West Virginia, Syracuse and Rutgers from Jan. 21-28.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Anybody who loses three games in a row in January better decide what they’re going to do. They’re either going to tough it up or they’re going to pack it in.” — Mick Cronin after his team’s third straight loss, 61-54 at Rutgers.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK’S GAMES:

–vs. DePaul, Feb. 4

KEY MATCHUPS: Through 20 games the Blue Demons were averaging 74.6 points on offense, but giving up the same amount on defense. DePaul, which ranked 11th in the Big East Conference in 3-point percentage defense, might be just the cure for UC’s 3-point shooting woes. Cleveland Melvin, who averaged 17.8 points through 20 games, is DePaul’s top scoring threat.

FUTURES MARKET: Highly touted four-star recruit Shaq Thomas, who was ruled ineligible for this season due to alleged academic discrepancies at NIA Prep in New Jersey, has impressed coaches since he began practicing with the team in December. Thomas, a 6-foot-7 guard, can handle the ball and is developing a perimeter shot. “He’ll be a great fit in our offense (next year),” said UC head coach Mick Cronin. “He’ll become really tough to defend.” 
 
PLAYER NOTES

–G Sean Kilpatrick is playing hurt. He suffered a groin injury on Jan. 14 against Villanova and then a hip pointer on Jan. 21 at West Virginia. Kilpatrick admitted last week to experiencing pain during games, especially moving laterally on defense and sprinting up the court.    

–G Cashmere Wright led the Bearcats with 14.4 points in a four-game stretch before facing Rutgers on Jan. 28.  He had scored in double figures in each of those games before scoring just three points in a loss at Rutgers.