Cincinnati Basketball: UC’s Season Was Defined By Missed Opportunities, Bad Luck, And Heart

The Cincinnati Bearcats’ 2015-16 basketball season was a roller coaster ride in every sense of the term. The highs of a top 20 ranking in December were ruthlessly bludgeoned by the lows of a double overtime loss to Temple just a month later.

That loss to the Owls, completing a season sweep by Temple I might add, was enigmatic of a season in which Cincinnati simply couldn’t close out teams when it mattered the most. You know, like at the end of games.

We documented it in early January, even before that overtime loss to Temple, how statistically remarkable the Bearcats’ late game meltdowns truly were. Just check out the offensive production after the final media timeout compared their average production in just three key games alone:

BUTLER (Down 1, 3:35 to play)

  • Field Goal %: 40% v. 51% the rest of the game
  • Free Throws %: 80% v. 74%
  • Fouls: 4

IOWA STATE (Up 1, 3:50 to play)

  • Field Goal %: 20% v. 49% the rest of the game
  • Free Throws %: 80% v. 55%
  • Fouls: 3
  • Turnovers: 2
  • Offensive Rebounds Allowed: 3

SMU (Up 7, 3:40 to play)

  • Field Goal %: 0% (0-6) v. 42% the rest of the game
  • Free Throws %: 100% v. 50%
  • Fouls: 1
  • Defensive Rebounds Allowed: 4
  • Offensive Rebounds Allowed: 2

And that was one of the key issues with UC in the 2015-16 season. Mick Cronin loaded up the schedule with top 25 RPI teams, as he well should. But when the rubber hit the road, or the wood, time and time again the Bearcats let the opportunity to put a shine on their NCAA Tournament resume slip through their hands.

Against Butler (#54 in RPI), Cincinnati allowed a buzzer beating lay up to fall 82-80 at home. Against Iowa State (#23), the Bearcats couldn’t hold a lead late and clanked a game winning three as time expired. In their first go around with SMU (#13), Cincinnati blew a seven point lead to fall on the road. UC was blown out by Xavier (#7) but lost to Temple (#63), Tulsa (#60), and UConn (#35) all in overtime.

More on that last one in a minute but the fact that six of the Bearcats’ 11 losses last season were by two points, and most of them were against top 50 RPI teams, tells you all you need to know about this experienced team’s inability to come through in the clutch.

To that Huskies loss, sometimes it was sheer bad luck that doomed Cincinnati. We can’t necessarily fault the Bearcats for allowing a Hail Mary-esque 80 footer with 0.8 seconds left on the clock in the triple overtime of an AAC Tournament game. Sure UC could have played slightly better defense but Gary Clark did put a hand in front of Jalen Adams’ face when he heaved up that game tying prayer. It was a contested shot by every definition of the term.

Plus, remember how injured the Bearcats were down the stretch? Heading into the UConn game Gary Clark had a bum knee, Shaq Thomas’ groin impeded him to do anything but hobble, Farad Cobb hurt his hip during the game, and so too did Octavius Ellis with his foot. Those injuries didn’t just magically disappear a week later in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament game against Saint Joe’s.

For all of those reasons, it’s rather remarkable that the Bearcats even made the Big Dance. By all accounts, given the pile of losses to top 50 and 100 RPI teams as well as the injuries, the basketball gods could have easily bestowed a NIT birth on Cincinnati. Instead, the Bearcats managed to muster together just enough wins, including a relieving top 25 RPI victory over SMU on the last week of the regular season.

That was a pattern of resilience we witnessed throughout the 2015-16 season. Despite losing to Temple by seven at home, they rebounded to blast the Golden Hurricane in the following game. Despite dropping the return visit to Tulsa in overtime, Cincinnati rose up to out-defense UConn 65-60. Despite an embarrassing 13-point loss to Houston on the road, the Bearcats dusted themselves off and knocked off #24 SMU at home the following game.

The heart this team displayed is probably one of the reasons why this might be one of my favorite rosters in recent memory. It’s the same reason why Mike Mickens is still one of my favorite Bearcats of all time. UC’s career leader in interceptions, Mickens suffered a season ending knee injury late in his senior year that caused him to plummet down NFL Draft boards. Despite a string of bad luck that prematurely ended a promising professional career before it even got off the ground, he’s now an up-and-coming young secondaries coach at Bowling Green.

Just like Mike Mickens, the 2015-16 Cincinnati Bearcats did what they could with the cards they were dealt and still achieved one of the primary goals they set at the beginning of the season. It clearly wasn’t the result that many of us had expected or hoped (I pegged them a Final Four team) but you can’t say that this team wasn’t the definition of perseverance and heart throughout a difficult year.

Here’s to hoping for more fortuitous and successful seasons to come.