Before the regular season started, the University of Cincinnati head men’s basketball coach John Brannen said he met individually with every player on the roster to discuss their roles.
Less than one month into the season, Brannen had another round of those meetings before the Bearcats played Central Florida on Tuesday.
“One of the things that I was struggling with was that we had 10 guys who all wanted to be the guy,” Brannen said after UC lost, 75-70, to UCF. “Not a lot of difference in terms of those 10 guys.”
During UC’s first seven games of the season, everyone’s role has fluctuated.
Senior forward Keith Williams, who leads the Bearcats with 15.1 points per game, scored 19 points on 17 shots Tuesday against the Knights. But he’s played fewer than 25 minutes in over half of UC’s games because of foul trouble, and twice this season he’s taken fewer than ten field goal attempts.
There have been similar highs and lows for senior center Chris Vogt, a preseason second-team player in the American Athletic Conference. Against UCF, he had no points and two rebounds in 19 minutes. Vogt averaged 11 points per game last season. This year, he’s averaging 6.4 points.
“It was a priority to get him the ball,” Brannen said. “We ran some actions, we’ve just got to do a better job. It wasn’t about the actions, you’ve got to do a better job of somehow getting him the ball.”
Even though Williams and Vogt struggled against the Knights, Brannen said more players fit within their roles on Tuesday. Junior point guard David DeJulius had an efficient nine points and five assists. And sophomore guard Zach Harvey had a career-high 15 points off the bench.
But the Bearcats still lost their fourth game in row.
“We just don’t make enough plays to win games that are this difficult,” Brannen said. “Outside of (Williams) and (Vogt), we don’t have anybody older than a sophomore in terms of experiencing this Cincinnati program.”
The same problems are haunting the Bearcats
UC committed 19 turnovers and allowed the Knights to take 24 free throws. On Tuesday, UCF scored 27 points either from the free throw line or off the fast break –– a determining factor in a five-point game.
“(We can) go harder in practice, clean up all the things we have going on and keep getting better,” Harvey said. “At the end of the day, we can’t make excuses for it. We’ve got to keep pushing and get better.”
This season, the Bearcats have turned the ball over on 22 percent of their possessions, which ranks in the bottom 30 percent among college basketball teams. Williams, freshman forward Tari Eason and grad transfer forward Rapolas Ivanauskas all average more than two turnovers per game.
And for the sixth time in UC’s seven games this season, the Bearcats’ opponent took more than 20 free throws. All three of UC’s post players committed at least two fouls in the first half, and Eason fouled out in just 10 minutes of playing time.
UC went small for most of the game
Brannen tried to dictate the terms of the game by going to a four-guard lineup before UCF did. Even though the Knights had more experience with a four-guard lineup and Bearcats sophomore guard Jeremiah Davenport was out in the second half with cramps, UC’s small lineup helped the Bearcats come back from a 13-point deficit against UCF.
“You saw a team tonight where the offense was free-flowing,” Brannen said. “That’s what I want to look like.”
Down the stretch, UC played freshman guard Mike Saunders Jr., sophomore guard Mika Adams-Woods, DeJulius, Harvey and Williams. That five-guard unit went on a 10-1 run that gave the Bearcats a chance to win the game.
“I thought we got more under control than we have been offensively and made better decisions offensively,” Brannen said. “Certainly we were sharing the ball a little bit more and looked like a better basketball team. But we still make glaring mistakes.”
Harvey had a game he can build on
Entering Wednesday’s game, Harvey averaged 2.3 points per game. He was often behind Saunders and Davenport in the guard rotation off the bench.
Against UCF, Harvey played the best game of his career, scoring 15 points on six field goal attempts.
“These past couple games, I’ve definitely felt a lot more comfortable just being on the court,” Harvey said.
Harvey closed the game on the floor for the Bearcats. During a stretch late in the second half, either Harvey or Williams took every shot.
“Guys really came into the game with the mindset of playing within themselves and into the role I asked them to play,” Brannen said. “Certain guys to facilitate, other guys to be more aggressive, play off two feet and make the right decisions.”