Last week was all about one of the great college basketball rivalries of the last 30 years. This week, there are a few more major rivalry games to keep an eye on, and none may be as hotly intense as the Crosstown Shootout between Xavier and Cincinnati. We checked in with our pals over at Down the Drive to get a scouting report on the Bearcats.
Nobody on this Cincinnati team averages above 11 points per game. How has the balanced scoring attack helped the Bearcats get out to their 8-1 start?
Phil Neuffer: Mick Cronin teams are famous for being defensive grindhouses that occasionally puts the ball in the basket. During this offseason, Cronin made it clear that he wanted to shake up his squad’s offensive identity. His recruiting strategy played into that, as the addition of Justin Jenifer and Jacob Evans brought in two fresh offense-first guys. Jenifer and Troy Caupain have really helped push the pace (as has the 30-second shot clock) and make Cincinnati a team that moves the ball better. The Bearcats are 21st in the country in assists (161), showing a real departure from the one-on-one possessions of yesteryear.
In addition to more passing, this team has shown a new willingness to take shots from long range. Specifically, Cincy is a top 100 team in 3s attempted and 3-point shooting percentage, whereas last season they ranked outside the top 200.
Sophomore Farad Cobb has taken a huge step forward this season, averaging 10.9 points per game and improving to 43.8 percent from three point range. How crucial has his maturation been thus far?
PN: Cobb was a more important part of last year’s team than most people realize, but there is no question he has been huge this year. He already has 21 3-pointers and is the driving force behind the 3-point renaissance. It is great to see just how confident he has become in his shot, something he has really worked on. He isn’t a very dynamic offensive threat, doing most of his damage as a spot up shooter, but that is a very important piece to have on a team that bangs on the inside with Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis.
Evans is one of a few additions to the rotation. Is he an upgrade from outgoing wing players like Jermaine Sanders and Ge'Laun Guyn? What should viewers expect to see from him on Saturday night?
PN: As I mentioned, Evans is a different kind of player than Cronin usually targets. He is a scorer first and foremost. He still seems to be adjusting to the college level but he has not shied away from taking shots, ranking fourth on the team in field goal attempts. Unfortunately, he has not been overally efficient, shooting 36.2 percent from the floor, but he has flashed the ability to be an impact scorer off the bench this year and much more in the years to come.
Unfortunately, his status for this game is still uncertain, as he is dealing with an ankle issues. He has been limited in practice this week but I’m hearing that he is probably for Saturday. If he can play, expect him to be a firestarter as a reserve.
Cincinnati has only played one true road game this season, and a game at Bowling Green is not nearly as hostile as the Cintas Center. How do you think Mick Cronin will get his team prepared for an environment such as this?
PN: One of the biggest strengths this team has is its experience. The starting five this year is the same as it was last season, with Coreontae DeBerry and Kevin Johnson both upper classmen that come off the bench. This team isn’t afraid of anybody and playing at the Cintas Center isn’t something that will scare them.
In your eyes, what is the X-Factor that Cincinnati must focus on if they are going to snap its two-game losing streak to Xavier?
PN: I really think these teams match up extremely well. Octavius Ellis, DeBerry and Gary Clark will have their hands full against Jalen Reynolds and James Farr and the backcourt should feature plenty of give and take. I’m particularly interested to see Jenifer match up with Edmond Sumner. If you’re looking for an X-factor, I think its going to be ball control. That may seem obvious, but Xavier has been nasty on the boards this season, so the Bearcats have to work hard inside to get boards, while doing everything they can to win the turnover battle, something they usually excel in. Using the game against Butler as a blueprint, Cincinnati won the battle of the boards in that one, but had more than twice as many turnovers as the Bulldogs (14-6) and lost the game by two points. Flip that around and Cincinnati is a winning team every night.
Bonus: Who wins, and by how much?
PN: Call me biased, but Cincinnati is going to win this game. The Musketeers have been riding high and are getting all that national media hype that puts a target on their backs. Obviously, Cincinnati doesn’t need additional motivation, but having a chance to put the first loss on Xavier’s ledger only adds fuel to a fire that has been burning especially brightly the last few years. I say Cincy wins this one by a score of 72-68.