Cincinnati – In the three games since Cincinnati returned to full strength, a case can be made that the most important player resides in the front court.
That player isn’t the one with the most rebounds, blocks, or points – its sophomore forward Justin Jackson. In the three BIG EAST games, Jackson has scored 16 points with eight rebounds total. Cincinnati has posted two victories and is a last second tip-in away from possibly managing a third win in those three contest.
“He is important, but everyone is important,” said head coach Mick Cronin. “His versatility is his strength. He can play inside and outside on defense and inside and outside on offense.”
The Bearcats have outscored their opponents by 41 points with Jackson on the court, the most of any UC player during that stretch. His +/- stat is more than double the next closest teammate, Sean Kilpatrick with a 20 point +/- stat. The two players are the only Bearcats without a negative +/- over the three-game stretch. Jackson is the only player with a positive double-digit margin in all three games.
“He is our energy guy, a guy we need,” said senior Dion Dixon. “He is out there hyping up the next man.”
Ironically in a game in which he didn’t grab a single rebound, Jackson proved to be vital in the UC victory over Georgetown. He was at +12 in the victory, while the two leading scorers –Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick – were only at +4. Jeremiah Davis III, who only recorded one rebound in 12 minutes, was the second most important player with a +6.
Jackson’s biggest play against the Hoyas didn’t show up on the stat sheet. With Cincinnati clinging to a two-point lead with 7.2 second remaining, his on-ball defense forced Georgetown’s Otto Porter to step on the baseline while trying to shake free of him.
“I just want to do my job, play defense, rebound and hit open shots,” said Jackson. “It’s also to be a leader on and off the court.”
When asked to compare his game to a past Bearcat, he responded, “Eric Hicks with more offense.”
Senior Yancy Gates, who has been the center of fans ire ever since stepping on campus four years ago, is even over three games. In his first game back against Notre Dame, Gates was at +3, then struggled against St. John’s with a -8 and was +3 in the Georgetown victory.
One of the surprising negative performance players is junior point guard Cashmere Wright. After playing so well during Cincinnati’s streak without the suspended three, he has struggled in the last two games. He has four assists and five turnovers in the last two games and a -7 in the +/- category. In the victory over Notre Dame, Wright posted a +/- of +18.
Junior Jaquon Parker hasn’t scored in two straight games and has a +/- stat of -25 in those two contests. Parker didn’t play much in the victory over Georgetown after taking a blow to the sternum and had trouble breathing.