Just think, Cincinnati could still be a part of this glorious basketball experiment known as the Big East if not for the luring call of football. Well, the Bearcats are back to say hello, as they host Butler in a big-time midweek matchup. We checked in with our pals over at Down the Drive to find out a little about the Bearcats.
Now that we've gotten through the Thanksgiving tournaments, give us a quick rundown of Cincinnati's season so far. How impressive have the Bearcats been through seven games?
Phil Neuffer: This is one of the most loaded Cincinnati teams in a while. It didn't lose much of anything in the offseason and added two really good freshman in Jacob Evans and Justin Jenifer. The early results have been excellent. Everyone knows the Bearcats can play defense, and they are doing extremely well in that regard. They are allowing only 54.6 PPG and have forced the ninth most turnovers (120) in the country. What makes this year's team even scarier is how well it can play on offense. There has been a lot more ball movement, a quicker pace and just so many options. Farad Cobb and Kevin Johnson are excellent shooters with no fear. Troy Caupain runs the point effectively, passing when he needs to and creating for himself at other times. Plus there's the big guys like Octavius Ellis, Gary Clark and even Coreontae DeBerry who just abuse opponents down low on both ends. The offense has slowed down the last few games, but this team is built to win any type of game, whether it be a shootout or defensive grind.
Which Cincinnati players should Butler fans know going into Wednesday's contest?
PN: As I mentioned, there are a lot of guys that have been important contributors early on. Caupain is the guy that will have the ball in his hands the most. He's an aggressive point guard who can score and distribute with the best of them. He has been the leading scorer the last three games and is riding a wave of momentum, so Butler should be wary. Cobb is another guy that has been hot to start the season. He isn't the most versatile scorer, as 19 of his 29 field goals have come from long range, but when you're shooting 52.8 percent from that distance, why wouldn't you keep firing.
Ellis and Clark have both even quietly dominant and are the most physically gifted on the squad. They both have the ability to hang a double-double every night and I really think Ellis is still warming up. He's the best player on the team.
Finally, as far as the bench goes, DeBerry is a nice defender and rebounder, Evans is still figuring it out but can score and Jenifer is an even better distributor than Caupain.
Even going back before both teams ended up in the new Big East, Butler and Xavier have ignited a bit of a rivalry over the last few years. However, that's nothing compared to the disdain between Xavier and Cincinnati. How would you describe the Bearcats' current relationships with teams in the Big East?
PN: The only team that Cincy really has any lasting relationship with is Xavier. That is a rivalry that couldn't have any more hate in it. But the rest of the Big East doesn't loom as highly. Remember, the Bearcats were only in the Big East for eight years so there wasn't a lot of time to build lasting rivalries. You could make an argument for DePaul and Marquette though, as all three teams came over together from Conference USA. Its unfortunate that Louisville left (for multiple reasons) because I would have pegged the Cardinals as a team that Cincinnati would keep its eye on as well.
Who would this win mean more for in terms of building a postseason resume: the Bulldogs or the Bearcats?
PN: The Big East is a much better league than the American Athletic Conference so I think this is a more important game for the Bearcats. Butler will get two cracks at Villanova and Xavier as well as Georgetown, Providence and Marquette, which are all teams that should be in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot. Cincinnati has a nasty out-of-conference schedule that really heats up with this one. Getting a win against a team like Butler will go a long way in comparison to a pair of wins over the Tulanes of the world.
Here's the million dollar question: who wins on Wednesday and why?
PN: The pick has to be Cincinnati. Don't call me a homer yet though. There's a few good reasons. The first is obvious. Cincinnati is playing at home where it dominates. It has won 15, 18, 13 and 14 games over the last four seasons, respectively. Secondly, the Bearcats have the depth to run with Butler. The Bulldogs have six double figure scorers, but the Bearcats have a litany of contributors as well. Finally, I think Cobb will be all over Kellen Dunham and won't let him be comfortable outside. On top of that, Cincinnati's size and ability to throw Ellis and Shaq Thomas at Roosevelt Jones will really grind Butler's offense to a halt.