The reality of the situation is that the NCAA tournament has already started for the Bearcats. ESPN, along with customized graphics, has been announcing every 5-minutes that Cincinnati is on the bubble, and last night's win by Texas over #14 Baylor just thinned that bubble out a little more for the 'Cats. Though there is substantial disagreement regarding where the Bearcats will end up, everyone seems to agree that if Cincinnati wins out their regular season games that they are "In".
The first step, in the two-step plan to make the tournament (i.e. beat Tulsa then Memphis), is to beat the Golden Hurricanes (name history) tomorrow. Cincinnati is 20-11 all-time against Tulsa. The last time these two met, Tulsa beat the Bearcats in the second round of the 2000 NCAA tournament. If that rings a bell for you it is because tthat was the year of the Kenyon Martin injury. Oh, what could have been...
- Game: Wednesday, March 4 @ 9:00pm ET
- Location: Reynolds Center; Tulsa, Oklahoma
- TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network, 700 WLW
Currently Cincinnati is enjoying a three-game win streak, but work is still left to be done. Tulsa doesn't seem to really do any one thing great, but does everything pretty well. They do lead the conference in defensive rebounds per game, so it may be difficult for Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark to clean the glass on the offensive end of the floor as they typically do.
Personnel wise, Tulsa primarily runs through two players. James Woodard leads the team in scoring (14.5) and is 3rd in the conference in PPG. He makes his living from behind the three-point line shooting. Woodard, who is second in the AAC in three-point FGs made, also plays 33.9 minutes per game, good for 4th in the conference. Pestering him on defense will limit his opportunities for good shots and will wear him down as the game goes on. That way - We can minimize the chance of reliving Tulane.
Shaquille Harrison is Woodard's partner in crime. He dropped 23 in the overtime win over Memphis a few days ago, so he has the Cobb-like potential to explode. Harrison supports Woodard with 13.7 points per game, but is a terror on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the conference in steals per game (1.9). Protecting the ball, as always, will definitely be a key factor for the Bearcats to walk away with a victory Wednesday night.
Tulsa is fourth in the conference in defensive points allowed per game (60.5). Granted, that has been against a 123rd ranked strength of schedule, but a decent defense can look spectacular against the Bearcats at times.
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Score 67 points. Tulsa averages 65.9 points per game and Cincinnati averages giving up 55.2 points per game. Statistically, Tulsa will likely score somewhere between the two, so scoring just above Tulsa's average should be enough. Cincinnati has been averaging 62.4 points per game, so a few more shouldn't be too difficult.
- Hold Tulsa under 60-points. Sounds a little circular and simple given my first point, but in Tulsa's two conference losses they scored just 57- and 45-points. Fortunately, if any team can hold the Golden Hurricanes to under 60 it is this one. The one weakness in our defense was Gary Clark's understanding of the shifts. He seems to get it now, so have fun with that AAC.
- Get Gary Clark the ball. Good things have been happening when Clark gets the ball. I know I am echoing myself, but there is no ceiling with this kid. When he gets it in the post he is either scoring or he is setting up others for open looks. Getting him the ball where he likes it will give the offense a much needed flow. The "stand around the three point line and pass the ball back and forth offense" simply doesn't produce points, it just runs out the shot clock.