With regard to close games in sports, the old adage has always been “Good teams find a way to win those games and bad teams find a way to lose ‘em.”

For the Cincinnati Bearcats, the evidence from the last two months of basketball points emphatically in the direction of the latter.

When the polls came out on Christmas Eve, the Bearcats found themselves ranked in the Top Ten for the first time since head coach Mick Cronin took the job in 2006.  A few days later, Cincy encountered its first blemish, dropping an off-putting affair at home to New Mexico, 55-54.

Following an overtime loss Thursday night at Connecticut, the Bearcats have now dropped eight of their last 15 games.

Diving into the numbers is no fun.  In fact, the stats are hideous enough to hit you with extreme nausea, leaving you feeling like Jerry Seinfeld after riding in a car with Elaine Benes behind the wheel.

Slow Starts

In this 15-game stretch, the Bearcats have bricked their way to an unimpressive average of 9.1 points in the first eight minutes of games.  Here are the problems with slow starts:

  • You are usually playing from behind
  • You are constantly trying to climb uphill
  • If you play great defense and actually have a lead, you should have had a bigger lead
  • Your shooters become tight
  • You start trying too hard and forcing things
  • You may let it affect your defense

Winning Time

Sloppy play late in the game has hurt the Bearcats as of late.

Sloppy play late in the game has hurt the Bearcats as of late.

Regardless of how you start the basketball game, the last eight minutes decide who wins and who loses.  Good teams make winning plays down the stretch.  Generally speaking, the teams that execute the best and make the fewest mistakes tend to win close games.  The Bearcats, for the most part, have struggled enormously in both areas.

Before you take a look at these numbers from the last eight minutes in regulation of this 15-game stretch in which UC has a 7-8 record, go grab a full bottle of Pepto Bismol and a case of Tums.

Okay, go ahead and take a hefty swig of Pepto.  Here are the stats:

  • 13.4 points
  • 33% from the field
  • 2.8 offensive rebounds
  • 1.9 turnovers
  • 4.2 three-point attempts
  • Allowing 46% shooting

As you can see, as you tip that Pepto back a second time, the Bearcats are struggling to make shots, taking too many threes, committing costly turnovers and suffering way too many defensive breakdowns.

In a 62-52 home loss to Pittsburgh on Feb 9, for example, in the last eight minutes of play, Cincinnati was 0-for-13 from the field (11 of those attempts were threes!) while the Panthers shot 6-for-6 (two dunks and a lay-up included).  The Bearcats actually held a 45-39 lead in that game before the wheels fell off.

Feel free to break the seal on that king-sized bottle of Tums.  It’s about to get worse.

The Bearcats are led by the backcourt trio of Sean Kilpatrick (RS Junior, 18.0 ppg), Cashmere Wright (RS Senior, 13.3 ppg) and JaQuon Parker (Senior, 11.0 ppg).  In college basketball, a backcourt of this caliber with that level of experience normally translates to success.  Unfortunately for Bearcat fans, this trinity has been underwhelming and disappointing down the stretch in close games.

Pop about five of those Tums in preparation for these figures.  Again, this is in the last eight minutes of regulation of the past fifteen games:

  • Kilpatrick – 8 for 38 from the field (21%)
  • Parker – 9 for 24 from the field (38%)
  • Wright – 11 for 39 from the field (28%)
  • Wright, in his last eight games – 2 for 25 (8%)

The Bottom Line 

Cheikh Mbodj (center)  isn't the only Bearcat struggling as of late.

Cheikh Mbodj (center) isn’t the only Bearcat struggling as of late.

No matter how hard you play, you can’t win close games if your best players don’t make plays down the stretch and your defense allows the other team to convert nearly half of their shot attempts in the critical final eight minutes.

With four Big East regular season games remaining, including two seemingly unwinnable road games, Cincinnati will have to scrap and claw just to finish at .500 in conference play.  A team that two months ago appeared headed for a top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament now finds itself on the cusp of failing to be invited to the Big Dance at all.

Any way you slice it, Cronin’s veteran backcourt needs to get its act together immediately or Cincinnati may not hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

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