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Game Preview: Cleveland State Vikings at No. 20 Cincinnati Bearcats

The non-conference schedule finale.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Kermit the Frog once sang that there was only one more sleep ‘til Christmas. For the Cincinnati Bearcats, there is only one more game ‘til American Athletic Conference play, even if that doesn’t actually start until Dec. 31.

But before the Bearcats can prepare for the Memphis Tigers, they’ll have to take on the Cleveland State Vikings, who will travel to BB&T Arena tonight for an in-state matchup.

Who are the Cleveland State Vikings?

Best known, at least in recent basketball terms, for being the alma mater of Norris Cole, the Vikings are in the midst of a lull for a program that was exceptionally competitive in the Horizon League from 2007 to 2015, winning 20 games five times during that stretch. They won only nine games last season, matching their total from the year before. That signaled the end of the Gary Waters era.

Dennis Felton was brought in as Waters’ replacement and thus far he has endured some difficult growing pains as he begins to mold the program. The Vikings are 3-7 overall, with wins over Coppin State, Arkansas State and Notre Dame (not the one you’re thinking of) on the ledger. They nearly captured their fourth win on Tuesday, but the Niagara Purple Eagles had other plans, holding on for a 79-77 win at home.

In that loss the Vikings shot an even 50 percent from the floor, but they were disastrous from long range, hitting just 5-of-23 3-point attempts. Anthony Wright and Kenny Carpenter each scored 16 points and Jamarcus Harrison netted 17 off the bench on 7-of-9 shooting to pace the defeat. Carpenter (14.6 PPG) is used to leading the team both because he’s a senior and because he is one of only two players averaging in double figures. He is also the squad’s best rebounder by volume (6.7 RPG). Tyree Appleby (10.9 PPG) is the other double figure scorer, but he was lost against Niagara, making just 1-of-9 field goal tries.

As a whole, the Vikings are hovering around the 280 ranking by KenPom’s reckoning. They are more proficient on defense than offense, with a top 200 adjusted defense but an offense that ranks 324th.

Everyone Can Score

In stark contrast to the Vikings, the Bearcats have a number of capable scoring threats. That’s why Cane Broome, who was throwing up 20 points per game at Sacred Heart before transferring, will go through games taking only a couple shots from time to time. Jacob Evans is obviously the top threat, as he is averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game, not to mention his ability to block shots, rebound, distribute and force turnovers.

After Evans, four other players are averaging in double figures. Gary Clark (12.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG), Kyle Washington (10.3 PPG), Jarron Cumberland (10.2 PPG) and Broome (10.2 PPG) are the others. In UC’s recent pounding of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, eight players scored at least five points, including Keith Williams, the talented rookie who had nine in that contest and is poised to develop into a very potent scorer as his career continues.

Williams was at the forefront of a big game from the bench, which featured five players with an offensive rating at or above 100. The starters only had two (Evans and Clark).

While the Mick Cronin will ride his starters in more competitive games, in more lopsided affairs, which this one promises to be, the reserves are able to get in and continue their development.

Prediction Time!

With UC scoring 80.8 points per game and allowing less than 60, a Vikings team that has a real lack of offensive punch and a defense propped up by a weak schedule doesn’t stand much of a chance. This should be a nice gift for the Bearcats and send them into a more than week long break with confidence.

Cincinnati 77 Cleveland State 54