There are only three games remaining in the regular season and each and everyone is essential for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The first of the final three is a road contest against East Carolina; a game that won't help Cincinnati in their search for another NCAA Tournament berth, but could be catastrophic if the Bearcats can't pull together a win. All the games are "big ones" from here on out and this is no different.
Meet the Opponent
Cincinnati played the Pirates earlier this month at Fifth Third Arena, winning 75-60. While the final score looked good by the end, East Carolina hung with the Bearcats for much of the contest, only trailing by five points with just over 6:30 remaining in the game.
East Carolina is 11-17 overall on the season with a paltry 3-12 record in American Conference play and finally broke a six-game losing streak on Wednesday that began at the end of January. Despite defeating Tulane 79-73 earlier this week, the Pirates have been largely outmatched in conference play. Still, it's worth noting that the three wins the Pirates do have in the AAC are against the Green Wave, Memphis and Temple. Explain that.
East Carolina has four players who do most of their scoring. B.J. Tyson averages 14.9 points per game while Caleb White averages 12.6. Kentrell Barkley and Prince Williams average 10.6 and 10.3 per game, respectively. All four players shoot over 42% from the field and Tyson is the worst three-point shooter statistically, hitting 32.5% on shots from deep. Williams is shooting 42.7% from three.
In their previous matchup, Cincinnati had five players reach double-digits in scoring, led by Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis each securing double-doubles for the Bearcats. While Cincinnati has been statistically one of the best in the country defensively, their offense needs that sort of balance to put points up on the board.
Cincinnati is led in scoring by Troy Caupain (11.6), Clark (11.2) and Farad Cobb (10.8) on the season, with Ellis just a notch under double-digits himself at 9.9 per game. That sort of balance has been essential for the Bearcats as it seems every game is characterized by a big performance from a different contributor. Caupain and Clark have been the most frequent point-getters, but there always seems to be another player or two who step up in a big way, whether it's Jacob Evans, Kevin Johnson, Shaq Thomas or Ellis.
This game will likely be more of the same where Cincinnati will need a balanced offensive attack with a couple different key performances in order to take this one.
East Carolina Part II
This is a game that Cincinnati can't afford to lose, but a win over the lowly Pirates won't do much to win over fans or experts. While this could mean the Bearcats come out and impose their will from the opening tip, Cincinnati will have to remain focused and not look ahead to their final two remaining regular season games, including the finale against SMU.
East Carolina may not look terribly intimidating on paper, but the Pirates do offer a bit of a matchup issue for the Bearcats. The primary scorers for the Pirates are all pretty accurate from deep, which is a place the Bearcats have given up a good deal of points this season.
It was something we referenced in the game preview for the first matchup, but with East Carolina's top four scorers knocking down over 32.5% of their three-point attempts, there is the potential for points in bunches, which is likely the Pirates best chance to upset the Bearcats.
For Cincinnati, they will need to close out on shooters and will need to bring the same defensive intensity and energy that they played with against UConn last week. Despite the final score a couple weeks ago being in Cincinnati's favor by 15 points, East Carolina played a tough game throughout that contest and do present a bit of a challenge for the Bearcats, if Cincinnati isn't careful.