Last night was fun no? In a little less than 2 hours the Bearcats will take on the number two team in the land in Mecca. It would be putting it mildly to say that the cats have some Big East Tournament demons to exercise against Syracuse. This will be a monster test for this Bearcats team. The first game was decided by only 7 points. But down the stretch of the game Syracuse felt more than 7 points better than the Bearcats. To win the Bearcats are going to have to do these three things IMO.
Get Going From Deep
The most unfathomable thing about yesterdays game is that the Bearcats staged a comeback from 11 points down with 8 minutes to go. They stormed all the way back and took the lead with 25 seconds to go. That comeback took place without a single three point shot falling. It is one thing to win a game shooting 9 per cent from three. It's a different animal entirely to stage a double digit comeback without a three point shot falling. It was amazing to watch. It was like 1975 broke out in the middle of 2012, but it can't be repeated. Certainly not against Syracuse.
You have to hope that the performance yesterday was the low ebb of a recent bad shooting trend. Over the last 10 games the Bearcats have shot 27.71 per cent from three. If you shrink the sample size to 5 games the number is 23.74. If you throw the Louisville game out of the equation the Bearcats have shot an utterly appalling 19.5 per cent. At the same time the Bearcats continue to toss up 18.8 attempts per game over the last 10 games.
There is no easy fix for this either. This team is not a great shooting team. There is no one on the roster that I would characterize as a great shooter from three. Sean Kilpatrick would come to closest, but he is mired in the depths of a three week long slump. So for all intents and purposes the Bearcats at the moment should be thought of as a streaky shooting team. And everyone is ice cold. That needs to change, and not just for tonight either. If the threes are falling for Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and JaQuon Parker (not to mention Kila) this is a team that can make a sweet 16/elite 8 type run. If not the Bearcats won't be dancing for long. That's why getting something going from deep tonight will be crucial for this team going forward, even if Syracuse wins.
Big Nights For Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon
Cashmere Wright was the biggest reason why the first game was close. He played out of his skull, particularly early on as the Bearcats took a big 9 point lead after 4 minutes and change. Cash made 3 threes in the first 4 minutes of that game from increasingly outlandish depths. What UC will need is more sharp shooting from Cash, but also better shot selection.
Going against the zone of the Orange that burden will fall on Cash and Dion Dixon to a certain extent. Those are the two guys who are capable of creating shots for themselves. But they are also the only guys who can create shots for other people. To beat Syracuse UC will need to find ways to get easy buckets, particularly for Yancy Gates against Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas.
Don't Overextend The Defense
To put it mildly the Bearcats defensive effort in the first matchup was lacking. I guess it wasn't so much the effort as the execution. The Bearcats worked hard to defend the three point line and make the then Melo-less Orange get their points inside the line rather than outside it. That is exactly what happened.
The Bearcats overextended time and again either by gambling for steals and creating 5-4's in the half court defense or by simply not paying attention. Whatever the cause the result was the same. A seemingly endless path to the basket as the Cuse half court offense became a defacto layup line.
There is no need to repeat that mistake again. Syracuse is like UC, full of streaky shooters. If they get hot you have to extend your defense beyond the line. But if the shots aren't falling there is no need to risk it. The Bearcats need to play sound basketball most of all. Needlessly risky decisions won't work against this team.
What are your keys to a Bearcats win tonight?