Jan 1, 2014; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Myles Mack (4) brings the ball up court during the second half against the Temple Owls at Louis Brown Athletic Center. Rutgers Scarlet Knights defeat the Temple Owls 71-66. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Previewing The Cincinnati Bearcats v. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Jan 4, 2014; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Eddie Jordan questions call by official during game against the Louisville Cardinals at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

UC faces a Rutgers Scarlet Knights team that at one point looked to be well on its way to a resurgence within the program. They weren’t going to be the next Louisville or Syracuse in the Big East but were making progress to becoming a halfway decent team. Then Mike Rice and his potty mouth happened and any kind of progress that was made was immediately lost. In a frantic move to save face, Rutgers immediately hired Eddie Jordan to plug holes in the sinking ship. And he’s done decently this season.

The Scarlet Knights are 7-8 and given the upheaval that the program underwent not one year ago, their record isn’t horrible. But it’s not all that great either, especially considering the Scarlet Knights play in a conference loaded with Cincinnati, Memphis, and Louisville. In Rutgers’ defense, they have scheduled some pretty strong non-conference opponents (UAB, George Washington, and Princeton all have more than 10 wins). The problem is that the Scarlet Knights didn’t beat any of them, exposing them as a team that is probably capped at around 15 wins this year. Theoretically UC should make short work of Rutgers tomorrow night.

Let’s get to the game.

KEY NUMBERS

Like Houston, Rutgers isn’t particularly strong in one area or another. This is a very average team statistically, which definitely helps explain their near-.500 record, but overall I’d peg their main weakness to be defense. The Scarlet Knights are allowing a staggering 76.1 points per game, which is 293rd worst in college basketball. Additionally, Rutgers isn’t that strong on the defensive glass (24.5 boards per game, 170th nationally), which is encouraging for Cincinnati who will be without Jermaine Lawrence for an unknown amount of time. Finally, they don’t generate a lot of steals (6.3 per game, 169th nationally) and are allowing opponents to shoot 37.6% from beyond the three point line (300th nationally). I think we’ll be thanking Mick Cronin for his emphasis on defense after watching Rutgers tomorrow night.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Myles Mack (#4): This smurf of a point guard has been a key cog on Rutgers’ offense for years now. 2013-14 is arguably his best season yet. This year the 5’9″, 175 lbs point guard leads the Scarlet Knights with 16.3 points per game, 4.4 assists per game, and 2 steals per game. Rutgers isn’t very deep but Mack is a game changer in Eddie Jordan’s limited arsenal. The only chink in the armor is that he’s somewhat turnover-prone, giving the ball away 3.2 times per game, giving him a 1.4 assist/turnover ratio. That’s good but not great. Expect Cincinnati to turn up the full-court press on him tomorrow night.

Kadeem Jack (#11): Rutgers’ anchor in the low post is Kadeem Jack. The 6’9″, 230 lbs forward is definitely a threat in the paint averaging 6.9 boards to go along with his 14.1 points per game. His numbers won’t jump out at you but given Cincinnati’s lack of depth in the front court that seems to be getting worse by the game, he could be a game changer if Justin Jackson or Titus Rubles get into foul trouble.

BEST MATCHUP

Troy Caupain vs. Myles Mack: I expect the Bearcats to score some points against a porous Scarlet Knights defense tomorrow night. As such, we’ll see a lot of Caupain v. Mack, which will provide Cincinnati’s a true freshman an opportunity to continue developing into the collegiate point guard role. The Scarlet Knights’ court general will provide a good challenge for Caupain and a great matchup for us to keep an eye on.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION

On paper the Rutgers Scarlet Knights aren’t very good. In reality, they might be even worse. Rutgers will struggle to win more than 15 total games this season and could finish near the bottom of the AAC. The fact that this game will be played in the friendly confines of Fifth Third Arena swings this game further in Cincinnati’s favor. There are just too many factors that that point to not only a UC victory but a UC romping. The Bearcats should run this team out of the building tomorrow night.

Cincinnati: 82

Rutgers: 67

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