With Louisville beating Temple last night, the Bearcats and Cardinals are officially tied in the AAC standings. As such, Cincinnati’s matchup with the UConn Huskies tomorrow at noon becomes gargantuanly more imperative to the outcome of the conference championship than it did at this day a week ago. It’s funny how quickly things can change in college basketball at this time of the season.
But it won’t be easy. The Huskies are historically a tough beat in their own house, despite it being the less imposing XL Center tomorrow, and especially against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Let’s preview this game.
Like all UConn Huskie teams, this year’s version is incredibly efficient on the offensive end of the court. Connecticut boasts an efficiency rating of 111.7, which is 2nd to only Louisville in the AAC, and rank 2nd in points per possession with 1.12. The Huskies average over 74 points per game (3rd in AAC), hit 39.4% of their three-pointers (1st in the AAC), and have a true shooting percentage of 56.6% (3rd in the AAC). Should be an epic clash tomorrow afternoon as they face Cincinnati’s 4th best defense in the country.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Shabazz Napier (#13): If you’ve remotely paid attention to Huskies v. Bearcats over the last couple of years, this is the biggest “duh” moment of this post. Napier paces the Huskies averaging 17.8 points, 5.9 boards, 5.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. Plus he plays like superman against Cincinnati. He’s hit the 27 point mark twice against UC in his long career in Connecticut. It’s never fun being a Bearcats fan and consistently being on the receiving end of all of those miraculous things he does.
DeAndre Daniels (#2): Normally I’d slot Ryan Boatright behind Napier as the second player to keep an eye on but given lack of depth in the low post for Cincinnati this season, Daniels becomes the second most important Huskie on Saturday. At 6’9″ 195 lbs, he’s a bit on the slim side but has the height to make up for it. He’s tied with Boatright for the second most points on the team, picking up 5.5 rebounds per game. The issue is that outside of he and Napier, nobody else is grabbing boards, and if either of them are neutralized UConn’s presence around the basket shrinks mightily.
GeLawn Guyn v. Shabazz Napier: Hmm.. this was a toughy. You could easily make the argument for DeAndre Daniels v. Justin Jackson but given that Napier runs the offense, shutting him down is instrumental to shutting down the whole team. That task will be on the defensively proficient GeLawn Guyn, who has done a nice job recently in corralling opposing guards. Russ Smith had just 10 points last Saturday thanks in large part to the efforts of Guyn. Let’s hope he can repeat that success tomorrow.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
Playing Connecticut in Connecticut is never easy but Cincinnati has gone and beaten the Huskies there before (albeit at the Gampel Pavilion), mainly due to a heroic performance from Sean Kilpatrick. Considering the lack of support recently UC might just need another performance like that tomorrow. Regardless, the Bearcats have to win by playing stellar defense and being strong on the boards. Part of that requires Justin Jackson staying out of foul trouble. That’s the main key to this game. If Cincinnati can get 30-35 minutes out of #MeanFace, the Bearcats have a strong chance to take this one. If he gets into foul trouble early, it could be a long night for UC. That’s a lot of “if’s” but I see this team rebounding against UConn, sweeping the regular season series tomorrow.
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