The Cincinnati Bearcats will face off with Texas Southern as they get back to the court tonight after a difficult loss to Butler on Saturday. The setback against Butler ended a five-game winning streak for the Bearcats, who are opening a three-game homestand tonight. That will serve as the last few warmups for American Athletic Conference play, which begins on Dec. 28 at Temple.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let’s take a look at tonight’s matchup.
Get to Know The Opponent
The Bearcats are likely to be heavy favorites against Texas Southern, but it’s important to note that the Tigers are not a pushover. They’ve made the tournament two of the past three years and have a history of creating brutal non-conference schedules for themselves. They’ve already played two teams ranked higher than the Bearcats in Arizona and Louisville and their next three games are against LSU, TCU and Baylor — all on the road. In fact, they won’t play a home game this season until January 17th.
Mike Davis, the former head coach at Indiana, is the Tigers coach and he’s emphasized a difficult schedule to help his players grow, create exposure for the school and, most importantly, generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for his program. According to this New York Times article, the Tigers typically lose a few thousand dollars per home game, but can make $50,000 to $60,000 per game by playing these difficult road games.
It’s a strategy that’s worked well for Texas Southern so far. In previous seasons it managed to upset Michigan State, Temple and Kansas State and the Tigers are 60-12 in conference play since Davis took over the program. This year they’ve beaten both Rice and LaSalle on the road.
This might be their most talented team yet. Last year’s SWAC Player of the Year, Derrick Griffin, just had his sixth double-double of the season when he scored 15 points and grabbed 26 rebounds against Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals. After the game Pitino said “Well congratulations to Derrick Griffin because that was an amazing performance.” Pitino also said his team “got taken to the woodshed on the glass, and they’ll learn a valuable lesson”.
Zach Lofton has been the leading scorer for Texas Southern so far this season. The junior from St. Paul, Minnesota transferred from Illinois State and is currently averaging 18.9 points per game. He was completely shutdown by Louisville last week, scoring just two points in a 31-point rout.
The X-factor tonight will be the 5’7’’ freshman guard, Demontrae Jefferson. Jefferson played the first game of his career against Louisville, taking 30 shots and committing 10 turnovers. It’s obvious that Mike Davis plans to make Jefferson a major of focus of the offense, but it’s unclear how productive Jefferson will be against quality defenses.
Bumming on the Bench
Including this game, Cincinnati has three non-conference contests remaining before it starts American Athletic Conference play, and need to use those games to figure out how to get better production from its bench. The Bearcats have played three games against ranked opponents so far this year, and their bench hasn’t eclipsed four points in any of those games. It’s critical for guys like Justin Jenifer, Tre Scott and Jarron Cumberland to play significant minutes now, so they have the necessary reps to contribute in key AAC games in February and March.
The Gary and Troy Show
Early in the season much of the focus was on Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, but Gary Clark and Troy Caupain have shown themselves to be the true leaders of the team over the last three games. Clark is averaging 11.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in that time and Caupain is coming off a season-high 22 points against Butler.
Clark has looked especially good lately and will be key in trying to limit Griffin’s rebound advantage. I don’t expect him to have a big offensive game tonight, but I think the work he does off the ball will directly enable Washington to have a nice bounce-back game.
However, I expect Caupain to steal the show tonight. The Tigers mostly play man-to-man defense which means he’s going to be matched up one-on-one with the 5’7’’ freshman, Jefferson. That can’t end well. Look for Caupain to post up on Jefferson early and often until the Tigers find a way to counter.
This Texas Southern team is going to dominate the SWAC again, but I think Cincinnati will win this one easily by a score of 84-60. Troy Caupain has the potential to set a season-high in points for the second game in a row and Washington will likely put up a double-double in just 20 to 25 minutes. Most importantly, the Bearcats bench should see plenty of action as they look to get Cumberland, Jenifer and Scott more confident ahead of conference play.