Tomorrow the Cincinnati Bearcats will wrap up their non-conference schedule before beginning the annual gauntlet of games that is Big East basketball. In years past UC has been reliant upon performing well in the most difficult, deepest conference in college basketball to pump up their March Madness resume. It really put the Bearcats behind the 8-ball and made it even more impressive that Cincinnati was able to pull off multiple wins over quality Big East programs to make it to the Big Dance.
This season though UC has stacked its non-conference schedule with a slew of solid opponents such as Oregon, Iowa State, Xavier (of course), as well as Marshall and Alabama if they reach their potential this year. And by beating all of those teams Cincinnati has proven itself to be one of those top tier Big East teams. Now with one game to go they face perhaps their toughest opponent to date in the New Mexico Lobos. Despite being upset by South Dakota State on Saturday and subsequently falling out of the ranks of the unbeaten, UNM is still a very strong team with impressive wins over USC and UConn that is still favored to win the Mountain West. Don’t overlook the Lobos, Bearcats fans.
In a lot of ways New Mexico and Cincinnati are very similar teams. Both move the ball very well on the offensive end despite not shooting all the well from the field or specifically beyond the three point line. Essentially both teams use speed to overwhelm opposing defenses and try to run them off the court. They push the tempo offensively and while Cincinnati seems to do so more successfully, racking up about 73 possessions per game, the Lobos aren’t too far behind with about 67. The difference is that the Bearcats are out of this world on the defensive end whereas New Mexico seems to neglect this area. Essentially, UC leans upon its defense despite possessing a dangerous offense and has won games this year even though their prolific shooters have gone cold. The Lobos however prefer to try to win shootouts.
Players to Watch
Kendall Williams (#10): New Mexico likes to score points (who doesn’t?) but more importantly score in bunches trying to force opponents to panic and play their fast paced game. The catalyst of all this for the Lobos is Kendall Williams. He leads New Mexico in time on the floor, points, and assists. Clearly he’s their most pure shooter who can score in a number of different ways. Plus he’s not too shabby on the defensive end either using quick hands to lead the Lobos in steals. Look for Cash, Killa, or Parker to stick close to this guy in an attempt to slow him down.
Alex Kirk (#53): The Bearcats have been damn near dominant on the glass this season leading the Big East in rebounds and trailing only Missouri on a national level. It’s again the size and length that prevents other teams from competing with UC in the paint. But tomorrow Cincinnati’s big men will be manning up against a tower of man in 7’0″ 250 lbs Alex Kirk. The sophomore is a rising young star in the Lobos system who not only gobbles up rebounds but picks up quite a few put back points as well. He’s an integral part of the New Mexico offense who will have to be contained by Cheikh Mbodj or David Nyarsuk tomorrow night for the Bearcats to not bog down inside.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
The Bearcats and Lobos are very similar on the offensive end. Both try to run their opponents off the court with an up tempo offense that creates havoc. But Cincinnati has been playing this style of play all season long and are more than capable of running with New Mexico all day long. The main difference is on the defensive side of the ball where UC uses its discipline, size, and length to disrupt opposing offenses. That will be the driver for the Bearcats winning this game and securing a perfect non-conference record to remain in the ranks of the unbeaten.
New Mexico: 65