Cincinnati-George Washington Preview
It might not have been as evident over its first five games because of weak competition, but Cincinnati's season has been a slow slide from a shooting standpoint.
The 24th-ranked Bearcats have seen their field-goal percentage dip in each game, and their first loss seems likely if it continues Saturday against George Washington in the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn.
Cincinnati (6-0) got by without any trouble through five games, averaging 89.8 points and a winning margin of 36.8 while shooting 49.0 percent, including 40.7 from 3-point range. Collectively, things looked solid.
In Friday's semifinals, Cincinnati squeaked by Nebraska with a 65-61 win despite shooting 38.9 percent. The downward trend, however, continued after a 40.7 percent mark in Tuesday's 64-49 win over Southeastern Louisiana. The number has fallen in each game since the Bearcats shot 61.0 percent in a 97-72 opening win over Western Carolina on Nov. 13.
They knocked off the Cornhuskers by outrebounding them 41-31, and that entire edge came on the offensive glass (18-8). The Bearcats are averaging a 43.0-31.3 rebounding advantage, including a plus-4.3 mark on the offensive end.
"Our big guys started to assert themselves," coach Mick Cronin said. "We're not very good if those guys can't score inside for us, and they did in the second half."
Troy Caupain scored a team-high 17 and went 4 of 8 from 3-point range, and the sophomore guard is averaging 16.0 points in the last two games while going 5 of 11 in each after attempting a total of 16 shots in the team's first four.
Caupain spoke of what the team needs from Ellis to be successful.
"(He) understands that nobody can stop him with his length and his arms," Caupain said. "And the way he jumps, (Ellis) can be a wonderful player. At 6-10, when he plays 6-6, it's hard for him to score. When he plays with his head above the rim and his arms, he can score."
Turnovers have also played into it with opponents averaging 18.8 to Cincinnati's 11.7, and Cronin's team hasn't committed more than 11 in a game since the opener.
While Cincinnati has two starts of at least 7-0 in the previous three seasons, the Colonials are after their first since beginning an all-time best 8-0 in 2005-06 before finishing 27-3. The Bearcats have won five straight and 12 of 13 all-time meetings.
George Washington has also lost 20 of its last 23 against the Top 25, though it began this season with a 73-68 home win over then-No. 6 Virginia on Nov. 16.
The veteran Colonials advanced to the championship with Friday's 73-70 win over Tennessee, holding on after building a 15-point second-half lead. They hit 3 of 15 from 3-point range and are shooting just 27.9 percent from outside the arc, so they too are relying on the interior and the occasional outside shot from swingman Patricio Garino.
The 6-foot-6 senior is coming off his worst game - 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting - but he's averaging 16.5 per game and has hit 9 of 13 from 3-point range.
Tyler Cavanaugh had 18 points, and fellow forward Kevin Larsen added 15. Cavanaugh is averaging 15.3 this season - up from 8.8 in 2014-15 - and Larsen is at 16.0 on 65.5 percent shooting in his last three.
"He has been what we needed," coach Mike Lonergan said of Cavanaugh. "... He is having a great season."