This is the kind of game that could turn the season around and get fans of the Cincinnati Bearcats excited for postseason play. This young team lost it's training wheels a while ago, and right now, they don't have that trusty father figure running behind them, holding the seat, swearing he won't let go.
A few skinned knees later, and UC needs to pick itself up off the pavement one more time. A win tonight and energy, faith, and hopefulness fills the streets of Clifton.
- Game: Wednesday, February 18 @ 7:00pm ET
- Location: Fifth Third Arena; Cincinnati, OH
- TV/Radio: ESPN2; 700 WLW
Let's face it, the Bearcats don't have many shots left at good wins after tonight. Tulsa's still on the schedule, but if UC loses tonight, do you feel good about going into Oklahoma and stealing a game?
But the Muskies appear to be limping towards the finish line as well, having also dropped three of their last five contests. Aside from toughness, the key to tonight's game is three-point shooting. Joel from Banners on the Parkway did a great job of summing up Xavier's woes guarding teams from deep, and he also mentions that if X is clicking from beyond the arc, it'll be a long and quiet night in Fifth Third Arena. Well, obviously, but still...
It'll be strengh-on-strength tonight as the Musketeers balanced offense will give Cincinnati a tough look on defense. X has three scorers averaging double digit points a game - and five more who can put up just as many on any given night. Part of that is due to their faster pace of play, but just about every team plays faster than UC.
Freshman forward Trevon Bluiett has been a stud so far this year, averaging 12.5 points a game to go with 4.6 rebounds. Will Bearcats freshman Gary Clark be able to take it to him on offense should those two get matched up? Or will the Muskies trot out junior James Farr to battle Clark down low?
We may not find the answer either way because if Muskie head coach Chris Mack has a lick of sense, he'll play zone all night against the Bearcats.
Finally, I'm anxious for the Ocatvius Ellis - Matt Stainbrook matchup. Ellis should be able to throw a few of Stainy's attempts into the stands; hopefully it's enough to make him think twice about what he's doing all game.
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Hold X under 68. The Bearcats aren't winning the Shootout if it is, in fact, a shootout. It doesn't need to be the scrappiest of rock fights, but the pace has to be slow enough to allow their defense to keep Xavier in the 60s. And, yes, the Muskies currently average 76.5 a game.
- Protect the ball. If you've watched the Bearcats so far this year, you know they've been fairly efficient on offense when they're not turning the ball over (Tulane game aside). If X tries to run, let's hope it forces uncharacteristic turnovers for them.
- Make a few 3-pointers. I think it'll come down to this. If junior guard Farad Cobb can find his stroke from outside, I love the Bearcats chances tonight. Anything added by Caupain, Johnson, or Sanders would just be gravy.
It's essentially the same game plan as always: play great defense, don't turn the ball over, and hit a few shots. In games where the Bearcats have done this, they've looked great (SMU, UConn, SDSU).
A loss tonight doesn't technically eliminate the Bearcats from the NCAA Tournament, but man would it feel that way. The atmosphere will be crazy, and the 'Cats need to bounce back. Sophomore point guard Troy Caupain finds his swagger - and becomes the guy to hold onto the Bearcats bike - as he leads a resurgent UC offense over the Muskies tonight: Bearcats win 64-61.