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Cincinnati vs Missouri: Previewing the Madness

One paper this is one of the more exciting games of day one of March Madness, no the first four doesn't count, not in the slightest. Ken Pom ranks the match up the third most exciting game of the opening day, behind a sneaky good game between Belmont v Wisconsin and a West Virginia v Clemson . But I have no idea how a team that just lost a game to an opposition that could only muster 36 points in 40 minutes could be exciting to anyone under the age of 75. Moving on.

When you start to look into this match up a couple of things become apparent, almost instantaneously. In terms of tactics defensively. Both teams look to press on made baskets and both of them are primarily man to man teams in the half court. Neither squad is particularly adept at operating in the half court on offense and neither team has an offensive talisman. There are primary offensive weapons for both teams, Marcus Denmon for Mizzou, Yancy Gates for UC, but neither of them have usage rates that are off the charts. So there are some similarities between these two teams in how they go about the business of winning basketball games, but there is one big difference. Pace.

Mizzou and Cincinnati do a lot of very similar things both offensively and defensively but there is one glaring difference and that is the pace at which they play the game. Missouri has one of the fastest paces in the country, 13th according to the Ken Pom rating. The Bearcats are at the far end of the spectrum, ranked 285th. That is a chasm. Pace is an offensive rating, but it illustrates the difference between Missouri's style of press and UC's.

Missouri presses to speed up the game to the pace that they like to play at. Rips and run outs a much shorter possessions than bringing the ball up and calling a half court set and running it. For Mizzou the secondary break is probably the best offensive set they have. They want their defense to be self sustaining, that seems to be what they aim for. They press to set up easy buckets on offense against defenses that are not set which in turn allows them to set up the press once more. That process has the effect in increasing the speed of the game not all at once, but in small increments that build up over period of time that, in the end, creates a pace that is in the Tigers wheelhouse that other teams usually can't sustain.

UC on the other hand presses teams to slow the pace down. There is no trap on most plays, and when they do trap it is very difficult to determine why they trapped on that particular possession and not the 15 identical ones that proceeded it. The effect is to have the opponent over analyze the defense which creates the desired effect, a glacial offensive pace. 

So there really is only one truly major difference between Missouri and Cincinnati, but in the area of that one difference the end result is two completely different teams and structures. Which ever team is best able to inflict their desired pace upon the other team will be in the best shape to win. For UC that means that they can't be sucked in to a down and back game. As I am so fond of saying UC has two potential advantages over teams, its either size or athleticism, in the Missouri game it is size, and playing the game at the pace that they want will effectively take the UC bigs completely out of the equation. It will be interesting to see which team is better able to establish themselves and the style of play. Whoever does it best and most often wins.