The Layup Line: North Carolina Central

USA TODAY Sports

Raise the roof, it's finally here! UC's basketball season tips off Friday! If you already know everything about the Eagles from North Carolina Central, you have permission to skip this article.

Put two hands in the air if you're excited for the 2013 Global Sports Hoops Classic! Now waive em like you just don't care! And, no, there's no sarcasm in what I type; I'm genuinely thrilled it's here - but only because it marks the beginning of basketball season. Do you hear that? It's the anticipation building cuz it's time for the first official Layup Line of the season!

The Bearcats enter the season as defending champs of the Global Sports Classic (you may remember the thrillers against Iowa State and Oregon last year). While it's not the most prestigious early season tournament, there is a game scheduled at home against a decent ACC opponent as part of this Classic. But before we get to the ACC, the Bearcats have to take care of the MEAC - more specifically, the Eagles from North Carolina Central.

  • Game: Friday, November 8 @ 8:00pm ET
  • Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
  • TV/Radio: ESPN3; 700 WLW

What we know about NCCU: They wear maroon and gray. Oh - and the Eagles won more than 20 games last year, a first for them at the Division 1 level. They finished league play (Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference) on a 15-1 run, and that actually impresses me. I realize the level of competition in the MEAC might not stack up to, say, the AAC, but going 15-1 against the easiest of teams is something to be a little proud of.

This'll be the first meeting between the two teams. When the ball goes in the air on Friday, the 'Cats will be lined up across 3 smaller guards (the tallest of which is 6'3") and 2 smaller big men (both listed at 6'7"). As if the fact that NCCU is the first game on the schedule wasn't enough, hopefully the size of their starting five tells you all you need to know. The Bearcats shouldn't have any trouble winning this one.

But if for some reason I've just jinxed Cronin's crew, most of the trouble will probably come from 2 of their guards - senior Jeremy Ingram (#14 in your programs) and senior Emmanuel Chapman (#32). Combined, they averaged just over 20 points a game although Ingram accounted for most of that last year. Both players have been tapped to the preseason all-MEAC team. If asked to speculate - and hey, that's why I'm here, right? - I think you'll see Ingram knock down a couple of three pointers as he averaged 39.4% from beyond the arc last year.

What else the Eagles sort of do well:

  1. They can force turnovers; their opponents averaged 16.1 a game last year. The Eagles averaged almost 8 steals a game too.
  2. They pass the ball fairly well; over 14 assists a game last year.

So, yeah, I basically scrolled through their stats from last year to get an idea of what to expect from NCCU. What'd you want me to do?

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Don't put the Eagles on the free throw line. It's funny, looking at the stats for NCCU's starting five you see a striking similarity to that of the Bearcats: 1 returning guy with double digit points each game. Jeremy Ingram sinks free throws in his sleep; don't put him on the line.
  • Control the defensive glass. This will be a hallmark of the season (and every season of Cronin's career). I'm confident the Bearcats will be able to apply great defensive pressure because they're longer and more athletic than NCCU. If they don't grab a huge majority of the Eagles' misses, though, this game will be closer than I want. And might tell us something about the frontcourt in Cincinnati.
  • Get to the foul stripe. If the Bearcats are shooting a lot of free throws that likely means they're driving to the hoop and over-matching the Eagles physically. While they haven't been the best free throw shooting team during Cronin's tenure, the offense will be okay if they're attacking the basket. I think the new attention being paid to the defensive handcheck will help this team this year.

My predicition: I'll be spending happy hour testing out one of the new bars in Clifton before the game - followed by finally taking my seat inside for the first time this year. I was way off last game, but it was an exhibition. This one shouldn't be close; Bearcats win 76-61.

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