This will be a tough week of preparation for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Mick Cronin and his squad will not know exactly who they will be playing until late Tuesday night, as they await the winner of the First Four matchup between Wake Forest and Kansas State to determine the No. 11 seed in the South Region. Both the Demon Deacons and Wildcats present unique challenges and opportunities. Here is the good and bad about a potential matchup with Wake Forest.
Pro - Little Experience
You may recognize the man stalking the sidelines for the Demon Deacons as none other than Danny Manning, the former National Player of the Year and coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Manning was hired prior to the 2014-15 season following four-straight seasons outside of the NCAA Tournament for the Deacons. Wake Forest was still a bubble team this season, as its 19-13 overall mark did not scream, “THIS TEAM MUST BE INCLUDED”, but the selection committee gave it a ticket nonetheless. However, Manning and his Demon Deacons have not gone dancing since 2010 when Dino Gaudio was still the coach. That marks a six-year absence. Cincinnati has been to every Big Dance in that time and has a roster with plenty of experience when it comes to playing in March. No matter how you feel about the experience factor, the Bearcats have the edge.
Con - Great Offense
UC’s defensive reputation has been well earned and it will face a difficult task if it has to contend with Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons ranked 16th in the country in scoring (82.7 PPG) and shoot well both in close and from beyond the arc. Their top offensive threats are 6’10” forward John Collins (18.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and 6’3” guards Bryant Crawford (16.1 PPG) and Keyshawn Woods (12.8 PPG). They scored at least 80 points 20 times this season, doing so against all types of level of competition from Louisville, which ranks sixth in the country in defensive efficiency, to Charlotte, which, uh, does not.
Pro - They Give Up Points
For as good as Wake Forest is at lighting up the scoreboard for itself, it is equally miserable at stopping opponents from getting the ball in the basket. The Demon Deacons rank 160th in the country in adjust defensive efficiency (103.6), with opponents netting 45.2 percent of their shots from the floor. That includes a 35.7 percent success rate from long range which ranks outside the top 200 teams in the country. In its most recent game (a 99-90 loss to fellow NCAA Tournament invitee Virginia Tech), the Deacons allowed the Hokies to shoot 51.7 percent while splashing 10 triples.
Con - Tempo Difference
Both Wake Forest’s ability to fill it up and weakness in locking down on D can be attributed to its heightened pace of play. Manning likes his team to push the ball more than Cronin does with the Bearcats, and that leads to more possessions, more shots and more points. The Demons Deacons rank 58th in the country in adjusted tempo (70.2), which is worlds above the mark of the Bearcats, who rank 327th (63.5). Cincinnati may be scoring a comfortable 74.5 points per game this year, but running along with the Demon Deacons would be a tough task, making it imperative that UC keep things slow. That is if Wake Forest even gets past the First Four.
Pro - Wake Forest Doesn’t Force Turnovers
Well, that’s not totally true. They do force some turnovers, but not nearly as often as might be expected of one of the 68 best teams in the country. The Demon Deacons are just 298th in the nation in forced turnovers (370) and 275th in steals (122). In comparison to Cincinnati, that is quite a low number since the Bearcats had 255 steals in total, more than doubling Wake Forest’s output. Crawford applies the most pressure for the Deacons and leads the team in steal percentage (2.5). Such a lack of aggression will do nicely for the Bearcats, who were tough to bait into mistakes as it is, committing the 15th-fewest turnovers in the country (343).
Con - Tougher Schedule
On paper, UC’s 29-5 record makes Wake Forest’s 19-13 mark look like a joke. However, it is worth remembering that the Demon Deacons had to run the gauntlet of the ACC while the Bearcats got to play the likes of Tulane and USF. That’s not to say UC didn’t have some strong wins, but Wake Forest had a strength of schedule rating of +11.20, which ranks 16th nationally. Cincinnati only had a rating of +3.56. So although UC will be the higher seed, this isn’t like playing a wide eyed mid-major just happy to be in the dance for the first time in ages, even if Wake Forest has been away from the tourney for a while.