Fresh off a 96-58 thrashing of Texas Southern on Tuesday, the Bearcats are set to face Fairleigh Dickinson, the preseason favorite to win the Northeast Conference. The Bearcats non-conference schedule has been a hot topic of debate on Twitter and in local radio this past week, with many people criticizing Cincinnati for scheduling teams that are either ‘too easy’ or not likely to draw big crowds.
On his blog, Cincinnati radio personality Lance McAllister says “All due respect, who wants to sit at 5th/3rd and watch a Southwestern Athletic Conference team? Who wants to watch most of UC's home non-conference opponents?”. It’s a natural question to ask at this point in the season, when the Bearcats have Texas Southern, Fairleigh Dickinson and Marshall on the schedule, but it lacks perspective and nuance.
In truth, KenPom ranks the Bearcats schedule as the 183rd toughest schedule in the country, which is just below the mid-point of D1 college basketball. Kentucky’s schedule ranks 185th, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team is 330th, Indiana’s is 333rd. The Bearcats did agree to a ‘home and home’ series with Iowa State and Butler, it just happens that they played both games in Cincinnati last year and are on the road this year. Nothing is wrong the Bearcats’ schedule — this is the way they’ve been doing it since the days of Huggins.
Get To Know The Opponent
Fairleigh Dickinson has struggled to start the year, and enter Saturday’s game on a six game losing streak. During the streak, the Knights have lost to Army by 19 points and Saint Peter’s by 26 points. One reason for their struggles is that they’ve been without one of their best players, Earl Potts Jr. Potts was the MVP of the NEC Tournament last year, but he’s missed the first seven games of the season due to injury this year. He’s averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds since his return, but they’ll need to get more from him moving forward if they hope to fulfill expectations as the preseason NEC favorites.
Darian Anderson has been leading the way for FDU in Potts’ absence. The junior guard from Washington, DC is averaging 19.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He’s scored more than 20 points five times this year, including a 33-point outburst against Towson last Saturday. He became just the 24th player in Fairleigh Dickinson history to score 1,000 career points in that game.
The Knights are an experienced team with 96% of their points scored from last year coming from underclassmen. Their main weakness is on the defensive side of the ball where KenPom ranks them 344th in the nation. The Knights are actually the worst defensive team the Bearcats are slated to face all season. They’re especially bad on the offensive glass and are prone to excessive fouling. n fact, they committed 32 fouls against Towson last week, forcing their opponent to the free throw line an astounding 53 times.
Will Kyle Washington Start?
When asked about whether Kyle Washington would be in the lineup against Fairleigh Dickinson, coach Cronin said, tongue-in-cheek “I told Quadri and Nysier before the last game, whoever I wake up dreaming about is probably going to start against Butler (he meant Texas Southern). I woke up dreaming that Quadri Moore was going to set all these great screens so I started him, so we’ll see”.
The important thing to take away from that quote is that Washington wasn’t even in the discussion. His performance in practice has declined so much throughout the season that Cronin had already decided he’d be on the bench for Texas Southern. Cronin went on to say about Washington “You can’t play 19 minutes against Butler and get no rebounds. That’s unacceptable for a big guy in our program”.
Washington seemed to take the message to heart in his effort against Texas Southern. After going without a rebound against Butler, he grabbed nine against the Tigers. Given the Bearcats advantage in the paint with him on the floor, it’s imperative for this team that he’s out there 30-35 minutes a game for them to be competitive. It’s especially important this week when they play a team so prone to giving up offensive rebounds.
Can The Bench Top 51 Points?
Last time out, the Bearcats bench scored a season-high 51 points against Texas Southern. Saturday they’ll be facing the worst defense they’ll see all year which should mean plenty of minutes for the bench unit. Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer have been trading off as the second-unit leaders over the past few games. It should be Jenifer’s turn tonight, but both players could easily score in double figures.
The Bearcats haven’t started a game with a big lead since facing Penn State back on Nov. 20. I think that will change on Saturday with Cincinnati building up a big lead in a game that’s never in doubt. As was the case with Texas Southern, I think you’ll see an all-around team effort, with several Bearcats in double figures. I’ll be paying attention to Washington to see how he handles getting fouled so often by the Knights, and will be keeping an eye on the amount of total free throws the Bearcats take to see if they challenge any records. My prediction: Bearcats 102, Knights 66.