The Bearcats are still figuring out how to avoid turnovers in their new offensive style, but we learned in beating Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday that when the system is perfected it should be worth the wait.
[Also: Bench fuels drive to 102]
CINCINNATI -- When JaQuon Parker made a steal near the Mississippi Valley State 3-point line Tuesday night, a pass lofted toward Cashmere Wright looking more like it belonged at Nippert Stadium than Fifth Third Arena.
Yet, as Cashmere Wright settled under the lob Justin Jackson predicted what would happen filling the lane behind him.
"I already knew it before I seen it," Jackson said. "He looked at me before he started running."
Next came an instant behind-the-back pass to the trailing Jackson who rose up and flushed down an emphatic jam to light up the 5,761 who witnessed what turned into a 102-60 victory against the Delta Devils.
"If you ask me, I think (Wright) has eyes in the back of his head," Sean Kilpatrick said.
The play served as the SportsCenter highlight on a night full of them. Of course, under the new uptempo style of play highlights produce more frequently.
The pace snapped from one end to the other Tuesday just as Mick Cronin drew up this offseason. On this night, UC provided more than just a glimpse of what the 40-minute sprint can provide.
The lasting image of Jeremiah Davis III sending a half-court alley-oop to Shaq Thomas to slam down the 100th point caught MVSU by surprise - as did many plays during UC's 23-4 advantage in fast-break points.
There were plays like Wright pushing up the sideline, spinning out of a steal attempt and buzzing the ball ahead to Kilpatrick running free at the 3-point line. Left wide open, there was no secret where the shot was headed. Swish.
Kilpatrick's buckets spit out like an American Gladiators tennis ball gun when this offense churns. He finishes so effectively at the rim, when he's cutting in transition and on secondary break, flurries like the 13 points in the first eight minutes of the second half evolve with ease.
"When you got somebody like Cash you just got to run your lanes and he'll find you," said Kilpatrick, who finished with a game-high 20 points. "He's smart enough to make the right plays, if you are not open he's not going to throw it, but if you are just running your lanes hard and he see you then everything else takes its course."
When this tempo meets at the intersection of guard play and depth the Bearcats potential is limitless. And that was apparent on the journey to 102 Monday.
For all the crisp passes and open layups, the growing pains of the blurry tempo still remain. Cutting down on the 19 turnovers of Sunday's win against UT-Martin held a high priority on Cronin's emphasis list Tuesday.
In the end, UC dished out 20 assists to 15 turnovers. An improvement and step in the correct direction.
"Still too many for me, though," Cronin said. ""Fifteen turnovers in a Big East game, you are going to lose."
For now, those numbers come with the territory as the growing pains occasionally expose themselves in mastering the new offense.
"We still had some turnovers that we can't make in a big game and we know that," said Wright, who added 11 points, five assists and one turnover. "We still got a lot of work to day and we still improving. If you want to be a good player, you can't (turn it over). If you want to play this style and actually win games and make it to where we trying to make it we have to learn how to not turn the ball over, make the right plays and make the right passes."
Perfecting the balance between speed and control will be the challenge as this philosophy unfolds into what it needs to be for UC to live up to championship expectations. The transition to great transition requires patience.
Cronin's hands spun repeatedly following possession changes on Tuesday as he urged his team to keep the pace going. When they do, runs like the 20-2 spurt in the middle of the first half are the result.
"Us trying to push the pace offensively is new to us," Cronin said. "See me giving the let's go sign to our point guards? If somebody makes us, walk it up, but if not we try to have a three-part system where are trying to go for layups, if not, go and then flow into our offense. If we have to walk it up we have to execute whatever we are trying to run, but that is the third option in the way we are trying to play on offense."
That means grabbing the ball even when the opposing team scores and beating them down the floor. The way this team expends energy and dedicates itself to the defensive end, getting over the letdown of allowing points is part of the adjustment.
"We don't like to give up baskets," Cronin said, "but when we do we have to continue to practice transitioning to offense. It's just going to take time."
It will be worth it in the end. That much is apparent from watching the majority of the time when the offense does click. It leads to entertaining alley-oops and behind-the-back passes that pull everyone off their seats.
"We excited about all the fans being here," Wright said, "so we trying to keep them here."
Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions, comments or if you want to hear stories about the time I flushed an alley-oop on a nine-foot rim at the Mason Sportsplex. Or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.