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Game Preview: Tulane Green Wave vs. No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats

The Bearcats look to ring in the New Year with five-game winning streak.

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This one could get ugly. Tulane enters Sunday’s game on a three-game losing streak, including a loss to McNeese State, the 325th ranked team in the nation according to KenPom. The Green Wave is unquestionably the worst team in the American Athletic Conference and legitimately might not a win game the rest of the season.

Cincinnati (11-2, 1-0 AAC) opened conference play with a thrilling 56-50 win over Temple on Wednesday. Winning on the road is never easy, and winning in Philadelphia against a tournament-contending Temple team is especially difficult. The Bearcats lost to Temple twice last season, but a great performance from the Bearcats bench helped avenge those losses.

Get To Know The Opponent

Tulane (3-10, 0-1) is a program in decline. It won 20 games in 2013, but its win total has decreased ever year since, culminating with a 12-win season last year. The Green Wave are highly unlikely to eclipse 12 wins this year since they’ve only won three so far, and likely won’t be favored in any games the rest of the season.

The Green Wave don’t have a foundation to move forward with at this point, and seem likely to struggle for the foreseeable future. Their best player is junior guard Cameron Reynolds. Reynolds has blossomed under new coach Mike Dunleavy, increasing his scoring from 6.6 points per game last season to 15.8 points per game this season. A large part of the increase in production can be attributed to his newfound efficiency behind the three-point line. Reynolds shot just .26.7% from three point range last year, but is hitting 42.5% this season, while shooting twice as many threes.

Sophomore guard Kain Harris is perhaps their best hope for the future. Harris scored a career-high 25 points off the bench in Tulane’s conference opening loss to UCF. The 6’4’’ guard from Chicago received offers from several schools, including Creighton, South Carolina and West Virginia before ultimately deciding on Tulane. He’s shooting 45.7% from three-point range so far this season, including a 4-of-7 performance against UCF.

The Green Wave struggle defensively, and are especially bad at guarding three pointers. They have a couple of big bodies in Ryan Smith and Blake Paul that have done an adequate job of protecting the paint, but that’s been against primarily weaker competition. I expect the Bearcats to utilize Gary Clark, Tre Scott and Kyle Washington’s quickness to exploit the Tulane big men.

The Emergence of Tre Scott

Cincinnati enters Sunday’s game on a four-game winning streak. In that four game stretch, freshman Tre Scott has averaged 20 minutes per game along with 8.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. Scott averaged just over 8.2 minutes per game in the Bearcats first five games of the season, but has seen his playing time and production increase just as Kyle Washington’s playing time and production has decreased.

The defensive-minded Scott is exactly the type of player Mick Cronin loves to recruit. He’s a Justin Jackson clone that has the ability to defend multiple positions. After the Bearcats’ 91-68 win over Lipscomb earlier this year Cronin told the press that the motion offense was the best it had been all year. He said “a lot of that has to do with Tre Scott’s willingness to be a solider for our team and get other people open. Somebody’s gotta get in there and try to get in his teammate open and not worry about himself. Tre did a great job of that and the more it worked, the more it became contagious.”

That’s exactly the type of player Cronin covets. You can hear it in every one of his press conferences. Here’s Cronin discussing Scott with the press on Friday.

Scott has obviously bought in to the Cronin basketball philosophy and he’s been rewarded with significantly more playing time and the Bearcats have been rewarded with four-straight wins.

Meanwhile, Washington’s playing time has dipped to just under 18 minutes per game over the past four games and he’s averaging the exact same amount of points as Scott at 8.5 points per game. Watching how Cronin balances the playing time of these two players will possibly become the most important storyline throughout the conference portion of their schedule. If Cincinnati can find a way to get Washington enough minutes to be effective offensively, and Scott enough minutes to be that important catalyst for the rest of team, then the Bearcats have the potential for a truly special season.

Prediction

Cincinnati should win this game easily. It’s worth noting that Tulane did upset the Bearcats 50-49 at Fifth Third Arena three years ago, but that was a very different team and an odd game. Last year the Bearcats ran away with a 97-75 victory in the lone meeting with the Green Wave. I expect more of the same as the Bearcats grab an early lead and Nysier Brooks, Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer see plenty of second half action. There’s even a possibility for some #ToblerTime. Final score: Bearcats 84, Tulane 55.