To say the Bearcats surprised on Tuesday night against USC Upstate would be an understatement. Here am I figurin' our beloved 'Cats would escape with a single-digit victory, and all they did was curb stomp my prediction and win by 36. I see you, Mick Cronin.
So now it's time for the Bearcats to travel away from Fifth Third Arena for the first time this year, and they didn't pick any random slouch to start with. Why not visit an arena that averages over 15,000 rowdy fans a game? An arena known as one of the loudest in the country? An arena that boasts a non-conference winning percentage of .847? A place where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano?
How about a little place called Albuquerque to take on the Lobos of New Mexico?
First things first, am I allowed to write a New Mexico preview without mentioning everyone's favorite meth-peddaling TV show? Remember in season one of Breaking Bad when Walter locks Krazy-8 up to a pole in the basement of Jesse's house? It's the first big test Walt faces as a newfound drug cook.
So here comes Cincinnati's first big test. Are the Bearcats going to fly into New Mexico, grab this game by the throat, and choke it to death? Bad analogy, I know. Anyway, carry on...
- Game: Saturday, December 7 @ 4:05pm ET
- Location: The Pit; Albuquerque, New Mexico
- TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; 700WLW
The Lobos are no joke. They've spent several weeks this year ranked in both Top 25 polls, and they currently sit just on the outside looking in. A win against the Bearcats on Saturday, and they'll probably re-appear in the rankings.
What if I told you the Lobos have 3 guys who average right around 20 points a game? You probably know of Kendall Williams (#10), the reigning Mountain West player of the friggin' year; he averages 20.4 points a game. And you've probably heard of Alex Kirk (#53), the 7 foot monster who controls the paint and averages 19.1 points and 11 rebounds a game. But have you heard of Cameron Bairstow (#41), the 6'9" forward from down under who also averages 19.1 points a game?
Better call Saul...
Cronin might have to call somebody, seriously. The 'Cats are going to need help down low. They got out-rebounded by USC Upstate. Yeah, they won that game by 30-something, but I have a sneaky suspicion the away rims at New Mexico are going to feel tighter than the warm confines of Fifth Third Arena.
New Mexico sits at 6-1 playing a really respectable schedule. Their lone loss was to UMass, your #1 RPI team as of yesterday (for what that's worth at this point in the season). And that loss came less than 24 hours after a double overtime victory. I'm guessing fatigue set in.
I'm not sure what to make of New Mexico, in all honesty. I mean, they're definitely good, but I can see this game going either way. The Lobos held Alabama A&M to 50-something one night but gave up 93 to Charleston Southern (and still won). They beat San Diego a week ago but only led for 12 minutes of the game. This will be a battle, but it's definitely a winnable contest for Cronin's crew.
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Stop one of the "Big 3." I personally think the key to Saturday's game is stopping Cameron Bairstow. Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk are going to get theirs, but if the 'Cats can keep Bairstow at around 10 points on Saturday, they'll win the game. Of course, this is assuming that neither Williams nor Kirk go off for close to 30.
- Turn the Lobos over. I'm not worried about the Bearcats turning the ball over much this game. I realize that sounds crazy considering the hostile road environment they've yet to experience this year, but New Mexico doesn't force the kind of pressure that would wreak havoc on UC. The Bearcats absolutely, positively MUST force New Mexico into lots of turnovers.
- Eliminate stupid fouls. Goes without saying, right? Well there's more to it... If you thought the Bearcats shot a lot of free throws so far this year, consider this: New Mexico has attempted 50 more than Cincinnati in the same amount of games. Better yet? The Lobos hit their free ones at a 74% clip. They're going to draw contact down low, so the Bearcats have to play defense without drawing ticky-tack fouls.
My prediction: The moment of truth is here, and I know what you're thinking. This JP guy's predictions are usually money. Here's the first sign of adversity; how will he react? That IS what you were thinking, right?
Well, I think the 'Cats will respond to the road environment with composure, and I don't buy all of this "high altitude" crap having an impact on the game. They can wear out New Mexico and force turnovers if they want. The question, though, will be whether they're able to limit their own mistakes while also making shots. And unfortunately for all of you, I'm buckling under the pressure. My gut says the Lobos have too much down low. Plus, I think we'll see too many bone-headed mistakes at the Pit: Lobos win 68 - 66. Sorry. I really am.