In a rematch of one of the most exciting games of the 2015-16 season, the Cincinnati Bearcats will face the No. 19 Iowa State Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa on Thursday.
Abdel Nader nailed a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to deny UC a chance at an upset at Fifth Third Arena last season when these teams met. We’ve had a year to absorb the setback and now UC is ready to take on the Cyclones once again. Kevin Fitzpatrick over at Wide Right & Natty Lite was nice enough to answer some questions about the impending showdown.
DTD: Last year’s matchup between these two was a barn burner. Do you expect a similar experience this time around? Why or why not?
KF: Normally I'm not the guy to call for his own team to win comfortably, but I'm thinking this will be the style of game where Iowa State gets a lead early-on in the game and then holds Cincy at arm's length for the remainder. Now with some big-game experience under their belts after the Advocare Invitational, I think the Cyclones will come back into Hilton Coliseum following a close loss to Gonzaga and take care of business.
Does this mean I don't think Cincinnati is a good team? Not at all. I expect the Bearcats to win the AAC this season. But playing in a friendly environment after a close loss is a recipe for a good game for Iowa State.
DTD: Georges Niang ripped UC up last season (24 points, 10 rebounds). Obviously he is no longer on the team. Who has stepped up in his place or, who is supposed to be stepping up?
KF: The last two games, Deonte Burton has taken on the role of "matchup nightmare" for the Cyclones that Georges Niang filled the past few seasons. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Burton is built like a brick house and can jump out of the gym. Traditional bigs are too slow to guard him off the dribble and smaller defenders are prone to getting bullied by him. Of course, this brings some drawbacks for defense on the other end of the court too, but the offensive benefits give Iowa State a weapon that's unlike many others in the country.
DTD: Montre Morris did great work against the Bearcats as well a year ago (16 points, seven assists) and he is still kicking around. Has Morris improved, regressed or stayed the same this season?
KF: The thing about Morris is he's always been a model of consistency. That involves not turning over the ball while making sure his teammates are in the right position to make a play. With Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay gone, many national pundits believed Morris would have to score more this season for ISU to be any good. That was somewhat disproved during the win against Miami in Orlando, when Morris only played 22 minutes due to early foul trouble, scored just 6 points, and the Cyclones won by 17.
Overall, I'd say he's gotten a bit better though. He put some more pounds on his skinny frame during the offseason and that's helped him get better at absorbing contact. It's hard to get much better when you're already one of the best point guards in the country.
DTD: Aside from Morris, who are some players that have impressed early on? Any disappointments?
KF: As mentioned earlier, Burton has been "the dude" the past couple games for ISU. He tallied 21 points and 7 rebounds against Miami, then followed it up with 29 points and 12 boards against Gonzaga. Beyond him, Nick Weiler-Babb and Darrell Bowie have given good minutes off the bench. We didn't know much about what we'd be getting out of either of them coming into the season because Weiler-Babb transferred from Arkansas and had to sit a year and Bowie was a graduate transfer. They're both longer guys who are competent off the dribble and have some skill on offense.
As far as disappointments go, Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long have both been under-achieving on their 3-point shooting so far. The hope is that's due to a small sample size, but both of those guys have reputations for being snipers from long range and need to get it going. They've combined to go 24-74 (32.4%) so far this season. That'll need to improve for ISU to reach its potential on offense.
DTD: As usual, the Cyclones are one of the best offensive squads in the country, ranking 15th nationally in points per game (88.8) and No. 23 in adjusted offensive efficiency (111.9). What is the key to their success and how can a team stop them? (Asking for a friend)
KF: That's a good question. ISU has done a better job this season of forcing turnovers and hauling in offensive rebounds than they have in the past, so those extra possessions have been a huge benefit to our offense. They've allowed us to stay in and win games we wouldn't have in the past due to lower shooting percentages.
My advice would be to prevent Iowa State from getting more chances to score and then have a good night shooting the ball. If a team can do those two things against the Cyclones, they'll be in good shape near the end of the game.
DTD: The Cyclones just lost their first game of the season, falling 73-71 to now No. 8 Gonzaga. First, what went wrong? Second, what went right and allowed ISU to come back in that game and make it tighter at the end?
KF: The Zags shot the ball at an incredible pace in the first half. I think they were near 70% shooting from the field and 8/10 from 3-point range at the half. Whether that's due to skill/luck or a lack of effort on defense from ISU is up for debate, but it happened and it sucked.
Iowa State seemed like they had some more energy in the second half and Deonte Burton went bonkers to get them back in the game. The shot selection down the stretch wasn't the best, and that's ultimately a big reason of why the Cyclones lost, but to come back from that far down against a squad of Gonzaga's caliber was a very promising sight for fans who have doubts about how good this year's team can be.
DTD: Lastly, who wins this matchup and why?
KF: I think it'll be Iowa State for a couple reasons. First, because I see Cincinnati as being a team similar to Miami (who ISU handled easily). They're more defensive-oriented (but perhaps have more talented players than the U) and are eerily close to each other in many KenPom statistics. Second, because the game is in Hilton Coliseum. Our fans should be fired up for the marquee home game of the non-conference schedule.
If I had to pick a score? I'll go Iowa State 78, Cincinnati 68.
Good luck to the Bearcats. I enjoyed watching the game we played last year because your fans brought it and it came down to the wire. Wouldn't mind seeing you guys on our schedule once or twice during conference play if the Big 12 ever decides to expand in the future.