Cincinnati truly has their back against the wall as the Bearcats prepare to host their most genuine American Athletic Conference rival; UConn. Following an overtime 70-68 loss to Tulsa Thursday night, Cincinnati absolutely needs to rebound in a big way if they want to keep their postseason aspirations in tact. After floating around the "First 4 In" and "First 4 Out" predictions for weeks, the Tulsa loss will surely play against them, making this game all the more important.
Meet the Opponent
Cincinnati has already beaten the Huskies this season, winning in Connecticut, 58-57, on a clutch Gary Clark three-point play back in late January. It was a defensive struggle for both teams as both offenses only shot 38% from the field and a comparable percentage from three. In the end, it was the Bearcats who played well late, earning a key road win.
However, UConn looks a little different now. The Huskies will play this time around with the 7-foot junior center, Amida Brimah, who is coming off an impressive performance in a 68-62 win against SMU on Thursday. The native of Ghana scored 16 points, secured eight rebounds and accounted for five blocks in 33 minutes of action, his most all season. In fact, Brimah had yet to play more than 19 minutes since before suffering the injury that sidelined him for 11 games, including the last matchup between these teams.
While Brimah presents a new threat for the Bearcats to contend with, it's Shonn Miller, Rodney Purvis, Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton who all average double-digit points per game. Miller leads the team with 13.3 and sports the best field goal percentage of the bunch, hitting 59.1% of his shots. Miller extends that efficiency beyond the arc as well, knocking down 41.2% of his three-pointers. Meanwhile, Hamilton is averaging 11.8 points per game, nine rebounds and five assists.
I know, this section perhaps feels like a bit of a copout, but in this game it's what Cincinnati will need to win this tough matchup. UConn struggled offensively in their first matchup, but I don't anticipate that they will completely flounder this time around. Brimah brings a big body into the matchup that should challenge the likes of Clark, Octavius Ellis and Coreontae DeBerry down low.
Miller is a scary player for Cincinnati fans as efficient three-point shooters have inevitably found hot streaks against the Bearcats this season and his shooting percentage from deep, coupled with a team three point shooting percentage of 35.4%, makes the deep ball a genuine concern as well.
The Bearcats are known for their defense and they have been very good statistically this season, ranking 10th nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (behind 8th ranked UConn), but we all recognize that there have been lapses during stretches of games that have led to Cincinnati's current record. With Brimah playing, Cincinnati will need to cover their bases and play great defense on every level for the entirety of the game.
I wrote in the Tulsa Game Preview that Ellis seemed to have found his groove lately, controlling the paint, scoring when called upon and racking up a couple double-doubles.
Then the layup/dunk miss happened against the Golden Hurricane.
Ellis is a very talented player who can make a major impact on games, but there have been momentary mental lapses this season that could extend for a couple possessions or even a game or two. He has seemed somewhat unfocused at times and coming off a heart-wrenching game like the one against Tulsa, it could be difficult to bounce back.
In the case of Ellis, he doesn't have a choice. UConn is a good team in a must-win game for the Bearcats and Cincinnati will need a great performance from their senior. We will see how he bounces back against the Huskies as his play could go a long way in deciding if Cincinnati's postseason hopes are still alive come Saturday night.