Nov 16, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; USC Upstate Spartans forward Torrey Craig (23); Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Preview and Predictions: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. USC Upstate Spartans

The Cincinnati Bearcats (6-0) look to improve on their perfect early season start as they take on the USC Upstate Spartans (5-3) tomorrow evening. This is the last game of the Bearcats’ 7-game homestand to start the season as well as the last “systems check” game before Cronin and his undefeated Bearcats giddyup out west to battle the New Mexico Lobos in the first true litmus test of the season.

Aside from the win-loss record, the Bearcats and Spartans are remarkably similar teams on paper. Looking at the statsheet for both the Bearcats and Spartans this season, it’s extremely difficult to differentiate between the two teams. Field goal percentages, free-throw percentages, three-point percentages, rebounds per game, and free-throw attempts per game are all nearly identical for the Bearcats and Spartans. Despite acquiring nearly identical stats so far this season, one obvious difference is that the Spartans have done so while having a strength of schedule ranked nearly twice as difficult as the Bearcats. Furthermore, all three of the Spartan’s losses have been decided by 9 points or less. Despite being 5-3 on the season, this Spartan team is much more talented than their record indicates.

Although both the Bearcats and Spartans have very similar stats compiled for the season so far, there are also several stats that stick out that are different. Fortunately for the Bearcats, it’s in their favor.

The Bearcats so far this season have been notorious on the defensive side of the ball. The only way to truly describe it is “suffocating”. This season, the Bearcats are averaging 9.7 steals per game (19th in the nation) and 6.7 blocks per game (17th in the nation). Comparatively, the Spartans only average 4.4 steals and 3.9 blocks per game. When it comes to comparing these two teams defensively, the Bearcats are the far superior team. Furthermore, while the Spartans and Bearcats share similar stats in overall rebounding, the Bearcats have a far superior ability in rebounding offensively. While the Spartans average 11.5 offensive boards per game, the Bearcats are ranked 4th in the nation in offensive rebounds per game with 17.

Prediction: When it comes to basketball, defense wins games. While there are many similarities between the Bearcats and Spartans, there are also a few gaping disparities between the two teams defensively. While the Spartans as a whole are a fairly balanced team, the only real threat to another Bearcat win is the Spartan Forward, Torrey Craig. Craig is averaging 19.3 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game and is truly dangerous to the flow of the game as he’s not only able to drive to the glass but is also capable to get to the foul line as well. He has 54 free-throw attempts on the season. To put that into context, Titus Rubles, the Bearcats leader in FT attempts, has 31 attempts on the season. Furthermore, Craig is 2nd in 3-point attempts on the team with 47 this season and is shooting 0.340 from behind the arc. Containing Craig could pose a difficult task for the Bearcats.

Expect Justin Jackson and the Bearcat defense to make another strong showing. The key to this game is keeping the lid on Torrey Craig. Eliminating Craig essentially stifles the Spartan offense. While the Spartans are a talented team, the Bearcats are just too talented of a team on both sides of the ball for them to contain. Furthermore, the Spartans are catching the Bearcats as they come off from playing their best basketball of the season. Look for the Bearcats to hand USC Upstate their first double-digit loss of the season. 75-64 Bearcats. 

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