Cincinnati opens their sixth straight NCAA tournament showing with a showdown involving the No. 8 seed Saint Joseph's Hawks.
The final NCAA tournament game of Friday night is a West Region matchup between UC and St. Joseph's on TruTV. The winner of this will likely play No.1 seed Oregon, who faces off with Holy Cross earlier in the day. In terms of history, UC and Saint Joseph's have the same tournament history giving a slight edge to Cincinnati for Final 4 appearances. The spread currently sits at -1.5 Cincinnati.
Saint Joseph's (27-7, 22-10-1) ended up with a 13-5 league record in the A10 placing them 4th. The Hawks went on to win three games in the A10 tournament against two tournament teams in the Dayton Flyers and the VCU Rams. The Hawks shot a season-high 64.8 percent against the Rams defense and obtained their fourth conference championship under coach Phil Martelli, his third as the team's head coach.
The Hawks great duo includes Isaiah Miles (18.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and DeAndre Bembry (17.0 ppg, 4.5 apg), both of whom can take control of a game in mere moments. The Hawks also take care of the ball with only three teams turning the ball over less than Saint Joseph's.
Taking care of the ball and not committing turnovers is pivotal at this point in the season, where one mistake can turn the momentum of a game. Being an underdog is not a worry of the Hawks as they have combined to go 15-5-2 in their last 22 meetings as an underdog. It also doesn't hurt that SJU has gone 13-4-1 in their last 18 games against teams with a winning record. They seem to match-up well with the likes of UC and they intend to make this dog-fight.
Who to look to when the times get tough?
Well, Gary Clark of course. The one thing you see when you look at Mr. Clark is consistency and tenacity.
Clark averages 10.7 ppg and 9 rpg which is up from 7.8 ppg and 7.2 rpg in his freshman year. The team itself plays great defense and when it comes down to it, you need to take a look as who can really be relied on and Clark is that man.
Troy Caupain is also a pivotal player for Cincinnati, averaging 13.2 ppg average to go with a 3.7 rpg average. Caupain is also the Bearcats' assist leader and should be able to dish out some nice passes as the Hawks' defense that leaves a lot to be desired. Caupain scored a career-high 37 points the last time he was on the court in Cincinnati's 104-97 4OT loss to UConn in the AAC Tournament. He also had 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in the losing effort.
Clark and Caupain are likely going to need to step-up in a big way to keep up with Saint Joseph's high-powered offense.
One and done?
Hopefully not. Especially since Cincinnati has had a lot more rest after losing in the first round of the AAC tournament in a 4OT loss to UConn. The Hawks have gone to the A10 championship, winning it of course, giving them a few days less of rest. Cincinnati should be well-rested and ready to compete in the 10 PM ET game with all minor injuries having time to heal. And if it makes you feel any better, UC has grown to a -3.0 point favorite since i started to write this. Maybe, just maybe, Cincinnati basketball is starting to gain the respect it deserves.
If it matters, I have UC here by six.
You heard it here first folks.