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The Layup Line: Middle Tennessee State

Their trip to the Big Apple was both rewarding and exciting, but now the Bearcats must finish strong before conference play begins.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently a game in New York City against an undefeated ACC team was just what the doctor ordered for the Cincinnati Bearcats. With a last second tip-in, they stopped their two game skid and finally gave me a chance to exhale. Time to come back to the friendly confines of Fifth Third Arena and secure a couple easy victories...

One problem, though: the Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee aren't exactly an easy victory. They've scored over 100 points twice this season. They've beaten a top 100 RPI team (I know, I know; it's only December). They lost to Ole Miss a week ago by single digits. In other words, don't expect a 20 point blowout against what appears to be a directional school.

  • Game: Saturday, December 21 @ 2:00pm ET
  • Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
  • TV/Radio: FSO / Watch ESPN; 700WLW

I normally start my scouting report out with the opponent's leading scorer, but I'm pulling the switcheroo and giving you rebounding numbers instead. MTSU are beasts on the boards; they're 40th in the country with 39.8 rebounds a game. Senior Shawn Jones (#12) leads the team in rebounding, averaging almost 8 a game.

But wait...

He's their leading scorer, too. Mind = Blown. You're all like, "He did technically start out with their leading scorer." And I'm all like, Jones averages 14.3 points a game, and he shoots an astounding 64% from the field. He's a 6'8" forward weighing over 230 lbs, and I think he'll have an impact on the outcome of Saturday's game.

The Blue Raiders have two others guys who average double digit points a game: Neiko Hunter (#01) and Kerry Hammonds (#24). Both are seniors and both average over 4 rebounds a game each. Hunter will help man the post while taking the occasional outside shot while Hammonds will primarily hoist it up from outside while occasionally attacking the glass.

MTSU comes into Saturday's contest averaging 13 offensive rebounds a game. The Bearcats have given up 15 or more offensive rebounds seven different times this year. Needless to say, protecting the glass will be crucial.

Turnovers will be another factor that will impact Saturday's final score. The Bearcats have a +6.7 turnover margin while the Blue Raiders' margin is +0.6.

In other words, this game sets up just like any other game the 'Cats have played so far this year. If they rebound and force turnovers, they'll be fine...

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Press the entire game. MTSU has had some attrition this year; they've lost 3 players from the program already. And by "lost" I mean inactivated - not dead. Wear 'em out with the press and force a few turnovers.
  • Keep MTSU off the FT line. So far this year, Bearcats' opponents have attempted 194 free throws. The Blue Raiders? Well they've put up 318 free throws this year, and for all you math majors out there, that's a difference of 124.
  • Limit Shawn Jones. He doesn't leave the paint. Keep him under his average (14/8), and the Bearcats should win. Tough task for this frontcourt, though.

My prediction: Well I'm 0 for the last 2, and that's embarrassing. This game scares me a bit, but I love the fact that it's at Fifth Third. The 'Cats rally from a second half deficit and pull out a hard-fought win: 68-61