If you follow Cincinnati Bearcat basketball, then you saw this coming. So did head coach Mick Cronin.
Cronin remarked after UC's ugly 60-45 win against crosstown rival Xavier that his team "hasn't paid the price yet for poor offensive execution and efficiency."
After Sean Kilpatrick's shot was blocked at the end of regulation tonight, the Bearcats had officially paid that price in a 55-54 home loss to the New Mexico Lobos.
Cincinnati (12-1, No. 8) shot a nauseating 31 percent from the field tonight, and even more alarming, the Bearcats managed only four free-throw attempts. And this game was played in their home gym.
Although UC won their first 12 games this season, the pattern in the previous three victories was excruciatingly ugly offensive first halfs in which the 'Cats failed to crack 30 points. Tonight, UC led 26-22 at the half.
What's the problem?
For starters, teams have decided to completely eliminate the paint, cutting off driving lanes by using off-ball defenders to slide over and stop the penetration that had been so effective for UC earlier in the season. Teams are also switching screens and crowding Cincinnati's two best shooters, Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright.
UC had been able to overcome these adjustments by forcing turnovers, getting fast break points and being animals on the offensive glass. Tonight against Steve Alford's Lobos (13-1, 3-0 away), Cincy was able to knock down 11 three-pointers, but shot a migraine-inducing 9-for-38 from inside the arc while getting to the line just four times. UC managed only eight fast-break points.
When all is said and done, 31 percent from the field and only three made free throws will not win you many games.
As it has all season, UC's defense kept them in the game. The Lobos shot 39 percent from the field and turned the ball over 14 times. The problem is, you can play phenomenal defense for 40 minutes, but if you can't put the ball in the basket it will all be for naught.
The question now becomes, what adjustments will Cronin make? It's becoming painfully obvious what the blueprint is for slowing Cincinnati's offense down. Take away the drive, force a lot of jump shots, eliminate the run-outs and keep them off the free-throw line.
It will only get tougher from here for UC as the Big East gauntlet looms, starting with a road game on New Year's Eve against Jamie Dixon's Pitt Panthers, who just so happen to be the most efficient offensive team in America. If you know Pitt, you know they ain't no slouch on the other end of the floor either.
Cronin will have to make the necessary adjustments if the Bearcats are to contend for the Big East title. And, if you know Mick, he's probably already locked himself in his house, closed the blinds, brewed a pot of coffee and clicked on the game film. Pitt and the rest of the Big East awaits.