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The Layup Line: USC Upstate

You've heard the warnings about how this game'll be tougher than expected, but is there really a chance the Bearcats' undefeated season is ended by a team with "Upstate" in their name?

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

When the basketball schedule first came out, I glanced it over and carefully chalked up a rough guess of wins and losses. And, I'm sure you've memorized it by now, but I had the Bearcats losing a couple more regular season games than the rest of my counterparts here at DTD (damn you, Herm Edwards).

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is I didn't pencil in an 'L' for USC Upstate. But after looking closer at the Spartans, I'm a wee bit worried. I hate games like tomorrow's. My coworkers don't know the difference between USC Upstate and ITT Tech, and I can't blame them; I was in the same boat until this past weekend. So if the Bearcats win, it's no big deal. If they lose? Well, I have to call off work on Wednesday...

  • Game: Tuesday, December 3 @ 7:00pm ET
  • Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
  • TV/Radio: ESPN3; 700WLW

What we know about USC Upstate: They're more than some directional-school cupcake. I'm sure you've read the various articles by now, but I'll recap anyway:

  1. They beat Virigina Tech in Blacksburg.
  2. They were up 9 against Tennessee with 12 minutes to go in Knoxville.
  3. They lost to Kent State by 1 in Kent.

In other words, they're better than Kennesaw State. The Spartans return all 5 of their starters from a year ago: 2 juniors and 3 seniors. But with all of the recent hype USC Upstate seems to be receiving, I can't help but counter:

  1. Virginia Tech was picked to finish last in the ACC.
  2. Tennessee hasn't proven anything this year and even lost to Xavier the game before they played Upstate.
  3. Kent State lost to Seton Hall this year and only beat Youngstown State by 4.

In other words, the Bearcats have a good shot at winning. I think.

Torrey Craig (#23), a 6'6" forward, averages a great stat line so far this year: 19 points & 7 rebounds. He'll garner plenty of attention from Mick Cronin, and my guess is Titus Rubles has the assignment of slowing down Craig.

What I'm more interested in, though, is the matchup at guard. Ty Greene (#05) can fill up the stat sheet: he puts up 16 points a game and leads the Spartans in minutes so far this year. Greene is rock solid from the free throw line and rarely turns the ball over (7 TO's total). In fact, the Spartans really haven't turned the ball over much at all this year (foreshadowing my game keys, maybe?). And on top of that, they average 15.8 assists a game. Contrast that with the fact that Bearcats' opponents have averaged only 8.2 assists so far this year, and the recipe for an upset is there.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Outrebound Jodd Maxey (#24). More specifically, hold him to less than 7 total rebounds. In games where Maxey grabs 7 or more, USC Upstate is undefeated. In games where he grabs 6 or fewer, they're winless.
  • Get a +4 Turnover Differential. The Spartans average 10 turnovers a game while the Bearcats average over 12 themselves. Yikes, I know. We'll see how well the press has been installed on Tuesday.
  • Hold USC Upstate to Less than 13 Free Throws. They aren't lights out from 3-point land, so if they're not at the free throw line, the Spartans shouldn't be racking up points on UC's defense. But, who knows, maybe they'll go bonkers from beyond the arc?

My prediction: RPI-wise, this is the best team the Bearcats have faced - but I just don't see them losing. Yeah, it'll be close, but I think Cronin's done enough to warn the media and get his team's attention. I get to go to work on Wednesday: 71 - 65.