Flying high after a rout of their local rival St. John's on Valentine's Day, the Pirates will look to continue to win as they seek their 4th straight victory in the Queen City.
Be on the lookout for a special Q&A session I did with our friends over at Bearcats Blog. That will be up on gameday morn.
For now, here's what you need to know about the Cincinnati Bearcats:
2011-12 record: 18-8 (8-5 Big East)
All-time series record: 6-6
Last meeting: 12/31/10 (70-53 SHU L)
The Bearcats were part of one of the defining moments of the college hoops season, when they tussled (literally) with Xavier in their annual Crosstown Shootout game. Several players were suspended (including Yancy Gates for his part in the brawl), and no one knew how either team would come out of it.
While Xavier has gone south, Cincinnati has thrived since the fight. Head Coach Mick Cronin over the years has developed an environment of accountability, and it showed in the post-brawl games. Also evident in the post-brawl games was the fact that Cincinnati had to learn to win without Gates, and although the opponents were not so strong, the Bearcats' offense switched from being centered around Gates to being centered around the UC guards.
It's an intriguing mix of talent that Cronin has this season. In the backcourt, you have point guard Cashmere Wright, a well-rounded guard who can do everything a point guard would be asked to do. Next to him is Dion Dixon, who's a do-it-all player who can score as a two-guard, rebound if needed, and dish out assists while playing a little backup point guard from time to time. He's also a solid defender. Jaquon Parker is a dirty work type player who can also spot up and hit the three.
Then there's Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the conference in threes attempted and made. He has a sweet stroke from deep range, and has also contributed on the boards this season from time to time. The Pirates will need to pop out on him and challenge his shots.
Wright, Dixon and Kilpatrick can all do multiple things on the court, which makes them tough to defend. Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jeremiah Davis, both frosh, back up the guard spots.
In the frontcourt, there's big Yancy Gates, now a senior, for Herb Pope and Co. to deal with, and boxing Gates, an excellent rebounder, out is going to take some doing. Pope won't be able to do it alone, so the Hall will need Brandon Mobley, Patrik Auda and Aaron Geramipoor to take turns battling with the big man, especially Auda and Geramipoor. Backing Gates up are two much more athletic centers in Justin Jackson and Cheikh Mbodj. Mbodj is no slouch down low as a shot-blocker type, but Jackson is a player that brings a boatload of energy whenever he's on the court. He gets blocks and steals a-plenty, and hustles into most of his points. I'd expect Mobley, the Pirates' best interior athlete, to mark Jackson when both are in the game.
This is a crucial game for both teams in terms of the standings and the respective NCAA hopes of both squads. Both teams are on the bubble right now, and both could really use this game. Expect hustle all around, and a game in the low 60s by two teams that are very good on defense.
I'll be on the call for WSOU for this game, which has an odd late-afternoon start time. 89.5 FM for those in the NYC area, and wsou.net for everyone else.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They win the battle behind the arc. Seton Hall is among the top teams in the Big East in both 3-point percentage and 3-point percentage defense. Cincinnati is right up there from behind the arc offensively with the Pirates, but they're average in terms of defending the arc. The Hall's been on fire from deep, and if they continue this trend, and continue to hold their opponents at bay from downtown, they have a great shot to get their best road win since Dayton.
- They win the turnover battle. One thing that Cincinnati does not do often is turn the ball over (3rd in the conference in TO margin). Seton Hall has been good in TO margin as well this year. With both teams playing tough D, easy buckets off turnovers (and any buckets off turnovers) will be a stat to watch in this one.
Cincinnati will win if:
- Gates has his way. Seton Hall can't match up with Gates one on one. If the big guy muscles his way around the paint, not only will he either score or get to the line, but it will open up lots of looks for the three-pointer happy Bearcats. They're the only team in the entire conference to best Seton Hall in three pointers, made AND attempted.
- They out-hustle the Pirates. Cincinnati might need this game even more than the Pirates do. With their rather soft strength of schedule and RPI ratings, and games with Louisville, Marquette and USF in Tampa among their final games of the regular season. Expect Cincy to play with energy at home. If the Pirates can't match it, they'll be facing an uphill battle.