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NCAA Tournament Layup Line: Purdue

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You make it to the big dance, you gotta kick it up a notch. Elevate your play. So we're bringing all we have to this game preview. Here's what you should know before the Bearcats take the court Thursday evening.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Blue. And white. And more blue. With more white. The KFC Yum! Center - the site of the Cincinnati Bearcats NCAA Tournament contest against the Purdue Boilermakers - is sure to be crawling with fans of neither school.

That'll happen when the only undefeated team in college basketball has a game grouped in conjunction with your game ticket. But at least you have a ticket, right? There are plenty of schools and fans who'd beg for the Bearcats' golden ticket to Louisville's chocolate factory basketball arena.

  • Game: Thursday, March 19 @ 7:10pm ET
  • Location: KFC Yum! Center; Louisville, KY
  • TV/Radio: CBS, 700 WLW

By now, you've read more articles than you care to remember on today's titanic struggle between Purdue and UC. But if one thing's stuck in your ever-fading memory, it's that both the Boilermakers and Bearcats are eerily similar. Scrappy? Check. Relatively low-scoring? Check. Shot-blocking prowess? Affirmative. Roller coaster season with late blooming momentum? Yep.

You've probably read the stats somewhere, but they're worth repeating: each team shoots 45.3% from the field, blocks just over 5 shots a game, turns the ball over around 13 times per contest, and shoots 33% from downtown.

Today, the Cincinnati Bearcats might as well be playing the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Here are the differences, though:

- Purdue hasn't faired well trying to score against a zone. While the Bearcats defense is a hybrid zone/matchup-man, it's still caused nightmares for most opponents.

- The Boilermakers don't have anyone to neutralize Shaq Thomas or Gary Clark. Purdue may very well play zone themselves for part of the game, so this may not matter - but I'd imagine they'll put freshman Vince Edwards (from Middletown, OH) on Clark. The Boilermakers play a three guard lineup, which means they'll have to put a guard on Shaq Thomas.

- The Bearcats' three-point shooting has improved over the season. In total, they're a 33% shooting team from beyond the arc, but in just conference play, the Bearcats averaged 36.5%. Purdue, on the other hand, shoots 33.5% on the season from downtown and slightly worse in conference play.

You're also probably aware that the strength of Purdue's team is its frontcourt led by former UC recruit AJ Hammons. The 7 footer is really blossoming in his third year in West Lafayette, averaging 11.8 points and 6.5 boards a game. He'll obviously be more than a handful for Octavius Ellis.

At the end of the day, Purdue has a slightly more efficient offense while the Bearcats have a much more efficient defense.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Keep Ellis on the floor. On offense, he can hopefully draw Hammons away from the paint while using his athleticism to outrebound their big guy. On defense, we'll need him to protect the paint as best he can. In other words, he can't pick up any silly fouls.
  • Rebound. As mentioned, the Boilermakers don't normally light it up from behind the arc, so forcing them to take long jump shots will only work if we're able to clean the glass. UC doesn't need to win the rebounding margin, but this game will be so close that a rebound here or there could be the difference in the outcome.
  • Exploit Clark or Thomas. I don't think Purdue has an answer for both of them. If Thomas continues his recent streak of aggressiveness and if Clark continues his silky smooth play, one of them should be able to take advantage of his matchup.

It's not easy to win an NCAA Tournament game. On top of that, this is Larry Davis' first NCAA Tournament as a head coach. Who knows what'll happen?

The Bearcats don't need to get hot from beyond the arc to win this game, but a few made three-pointers would certainly help. And you'll notice I didn't mention anything about turnovers; that's because I think they can overcome a few silly turnovers against this Purdue squad - but I certainly wouldn't recommend they start randomly throwing the ball out of bounds. If UC can keep the ball from regularly getting into Hammons hands, I think they'll be fine. You've heard the term 'rock fight' thrown around, and nobody beats the Bearcats at their own specialty. Nobody. Bearcats win 56-52.