Bearcats Going Giant Hunting Again, This Time Against #11/13 UConn

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Since starting Big East play almost three weeks ago, Cincinnati has made it their business to go out and hunt down the perennial powers in this conference. Ranked Georgetown and Pitt as well as Notre Dame and Villanova have already fallen by the wayside at the hands of the Bearcats and tonight they’ll be look to perform the same deed against the Connecticut Huskies. If you remember, the last time these two teams hooked up was in the last NCAA Tournament. UC was bounced by the eventual National Champions by a respectable score of 68 – 59. It also provided a glimpse into Yancy Gates’ more human side.

This season it’s same-old same-old for the UConn Huskies. Despite missing Kemba Walker, who was basically UConn basketball’s version of Isaiah Pead, Connecticut is still doing just about everything well with or without the ball in their hands. On the season they have averaged 72 points per game and allowed 10 less than that defensively. It obviously helps that they have so many pure shooters that have allowed the Huskies to shoot 48% from the field. But it’s the defense that is really shining this year (36% opponent FG) and that’s in large part because of their size. Paul Dehner touched on it yesterday but it seems like every UConn player has a 20-foot wingspan. Cincinnati will definitely be slightly undersized tonight.

Players to look out for with such length include guys like Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb. The super-sophes made a name for themselves last season working alongside Walker but have really stepped into leadership positions in 2011-12. Both lead the team in minutes-played and Napier has an ungodly 6.2 assists per game. Clogging up the inside is Andre Drummond who has recently had the Big East Rookie of the Week award named after him. He’s a rebounding machine and a great compliment to veteran forward Alex Oriakhi. Unfortunately, Drummond decided to stay for the entirety of his freshman season as opposed to signing with an NBA team before the UC game. Curious move.

There is one detail to this game that should help Bearcats fans breathe a sigh of relief and it’s that fellow freshman phenom Ryan Boatright will be missing from this game. UConn may or may not be paying their players (but probably are) and Boatright has fallen ‘victim’ (if you can call it that) to the NCAA investigation. Another encouraging sign is that Yancy Gates has played extremely well in his past few games and will have the edge of experience over Drummond. I think Gates will be motivated in his likely final game against Huskies especially considering they were the ones to knock him out in his first trip to the Big Dance last March.

So when it comes down to it, UConn and UC are similar talent-wise especially when guys like Kilpatrick, Dixon, and Gates are hot but the Huskies will have a size advantage over the Cats. If Jim Calhoun elects to play Drummond/Oriakhi, Mick will have to counter with Gates/Mbodj. Jackson, Gaines, etc. simply won’t be able to match up with Oriahki. Unfortunately, if that’s the situation I really don’t have much confidence in Mbodj containing Oriahki. The Bearcats have played outstanding press defense this year which will keep UConn out of rhythm in transition. Overall, UC’s defense should keep them in this game but this is the first time this year that Cincinnati will be playing a team that plays equally good D. Plus it doesn’t help that the teams will be playing at the bandbox that is the Gampel Pavilion. That place will surely be going nuts tonight.

Unfortunately, I can’t give the Bearcats the dub tonight. There are just too many circumstances working against them and the Huskies are too good of a team. Let’s just get out of this one healthy, alright?

Cincinnati: 63

UConn: 72