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The Gauntlet

When this year's basketball schedule was released, Bearcat fans circled December 13th on their calendars. Tomorrow, Cincinnati opens a stretch with the potential to put them on the national radar.

Shaq
Shaq
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Granted, this stretch has taken a hit of late, but nevertheless presents opportunities for Cincinnati. The stretch begins tomorrow night when the Bearcats travel to Lincoln, Nebraska for their first true road game against the Cornhuskers (MTU and Ole Miss were neutral sites). Four days later they take on #18 San Diego State, just to turn around three days later to be greater by VCU. There's a "break" against Wagner, followed by NC State, SMU, ECU (only AAC team under .500), UCONN, and then Memphis. Let's take a deeper look in to what we can expect in the make or break week starting tomorrow.

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Game 1: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska took a hit the other day when they fell to Incarnate Word (real team). The Cornhuskers were up 5 with 33 seconds to go, and lost... ouch. Don't be confused though, this team has already beat Florida State and was a preseason top 20 team.

They are lead by Junior Terran Petteway who is averaging 20.6 points, 5.5 boards, and 2.9 assists per game. Needless to say, limiting him will be a major key to getting the "W" tomorrow. He averages 3.9 turnovers per game, which I am sure has Mick drooling. Petteway is an NBA caliber player that dropped 22 on us last year. Now, this is not a Sean Kilpatrick type situation, Petteway is backed up by fellow Junior Shavon Shields, who is averaging 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Keys to Victory: Deflections. Nebraska is averaging 14 turnovers per game as a team, and their stars are a part of the program. Forcing turnovers early, especially from Petteway and Shields, will get in the Conrhuskers' heads and will pave the way to a Bearcat victory.

Game 2: San Diego State Aztecs

After dealing with the star power of Nebraska, the Bearcats will have to do a 180 on their game plan for the Aztecs. SDSU's leading scorer (Winston Shepard) barely averages double digits per game at 10.2. The strange thing is, SDSU is the only ranked team the Bearcats will face in any of this. Early losses have dropped many of the other teams during this stretch out of the national rankings (e.g. UCONN, Nebraska, Memphis, & SMU). This could be a big win on the Bearcat's resume come March, but it will be tough.

Keys to Victory: Rebounds. SDSU has one player 6-10 or taller. That being said, they average 37 rebounds per game, compared to Cincinnati's 36. If Cincinnati can out rebound the Aztecs, especially keeping them off the offensive glass, we may just have a chance.

Game 3: Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams

VCU currently has three losses, all of which are pretty respectable (Villanova, Virginia, and Old Dominion). Old Dominion is the worst loss of the three, but they are currently sitting at 6-1 with wins against LSU, George Mason, and VCU. VCU will have a shot at redemption tomorrow night when they get the opportunity to give the #23 Northern Iowa Panthers their first loss (currently 9-0). If VCU can come out of tomorrow with a win, that would be big boost to Cincinnati's SOS.

VCU, like Nebraska, is lead by a two-headed monster in Treveon Graham ()17.4 points per) and Melvin Johnson (16.9 points per). Graham is a three-point specialist, shooting 43.2% from deep. Giving him difficult looks will be key to this one.

Keys to Victory: Turnovers. Not for VCU, but for Cincinnati. VCU averages 10 steals per game. The Rams have a player in Briante Weber who averages 4.0 steals per game by himself. Taking care of the ball will be big for Cincinnati if they want to win this one.

Big Picture

In all, if Cincinnati can get through these three games with two wins would be great (three wins and I'll write a ridiculous article about Elite Eight dreams). I like the VCU and Nebraska match ups better than SDSU, because I find it easier to shut down one or two players than a team... but that's what a lot of teams thought last year with SK.

-Daniele "Da" Bologna