The Bearcats travel to Charleston, West Virginia tomorrow to face the Thundering Herd. It’s a return trip for Cincinnati who hosted Marshall right around the same time last year and were embarrassed on their home court. Now, with UC steamrolling through their season with seemingly little standing in their way, they look to exact some revenge on the Herd and move to 10 – 0. It would be the first time in two years that Cincinnati accomplished this feat but are doing so against pretty solid competition in the Iowa State Cyclones, Oregon Ducks, and Alabama Crimson Tide. It makes going undefeated thus far all the more impressive.
But believe it or not there’s more important things on the line than a spotless record. A president’s hair is at stake. Yes President Santa Ono pledged that he would shave his head if UC’s basketball team went 10 – 0 this season. And I think the true purpose of all basketball seasons, and life really, is to see a major university’s president as hairless as the day he was born.
Love you, Santa. Let’s get to some pregame analysis:
While the 6 – 4 record doesn’t reflect it, the Thundering Herd are a very well-rounded team. They score points, rebound, move the ball around, and play decent defense. But their main Achilles heel is that that they turn the ball over quite a bit, almost 15 times per game. And considering Cincinnati is among the best teams in the country at forcing mistakes, they’re the 8th best team at stealing the basketball, this will play into the Bearcats’ hands. And with star guard DeAndre Kane out for this game, expect the turnovers to ramp up as a result.
Players to Watch
Dennis Tinnon (#1)/Nigel Spikes (#11) vs. Cheikh Mbodj/David Nyarsuk: Marshall is one of the best teams in the country at rebounding the ball and certainly the best in Conference USA. The reason is these two. Tinnon leads the team with 9.7 boards per game and Spikes with 9.2. By comparison that paces Cincinnati’s two leading rebounders by over 3 per game. Some of that is difference is absolutely the two Herd players’ dominance in the paint but it’s also a factor of UC running an uptempo offense that doesn’t require the bigs to sit near the bucket and pick up rebounds. The guards frequently crash the bucket, picking up boards themselves that would otherwise go to Mbodj and Nyarsuk. Still, in man-to-man defense expect these two to be stuck to Tinnon and Spikes like glue. Controlling the paint, especially against these guys, will be critical in this game.
Whoever Replaces Kane – Probably Chris Martin (#0): Losing Kane is a huge blow for the Thundering Herd especially considering they will be facing one of the best guard lineups in the country. He leads Marshall in points, assists, and steals per game and was clearly the catalyst of the offense. But he will be sidelined and as a result it’s likely that Chris Martin will be leaned upon to run the offense. It’s unclear just how the young guard will fill the absolutely huge role filled by Kane but I’d expect Mick Cronin to turn up the heat on him early in the game to force turnovers.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
This could potentially be a trap game for the Bearcats. Don’t let the record fool you. Marshall is a very experience team especially on the inside and could win the Conference USA this season. This game definitely worries me especially considering the way the Thundering Herd upset UC last season, and on the road no less. But this year’s a different story and even though this is a big game for Marshall this is a special Cincinnati team that can use its depth to run the Thundering Herd off the court.
Plus the Bearcats know what’s at stake. They want to see President Ono’s shaved head. They need to see President Ono’s shaved head. And they’ll do what it takes to make sure he fulfills his promise.
1 Shaved President’s Head