Winning tournaments in November doesn’t always translate to success all year, but its certainly a nice way to kick the regular season into high gear. The Cincinnati Bearcats will get a shot at such a tournament win on Saturday night when they face the Ole Miss Rebels in the finals of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida.
The Bearcats won their fourth-straight game on Friday with a 71-55 triumph against George Mason during the tournament’s semifinals. With a 4-1 overall mark, the Bearcats have had a solid start to the season. A year ago, they also started strong, and that included a Cayman Islands Classic title. They went on to win the American Athletic Conference outright from there, so perhaps another title will lead to such success. Before they can do that, let’s get to know their championship opponent.
Who are the Ole Miss Rebels?
Ole Miss defeated Baylor 78-70 in the other semifinal of this tournament on Friday night to improve to 3-1 overall. It’s a decent enough way for Kermit Davis to begin his tenure. Andy Kennedy stepped down as head coach last February, which opened the door for Davis, the former head coach at Middle Tennessee, to take the gig. The Rebels had some real success with Kennedy leading the way, but they went just 12-20 last year, marking their first losing season since 2006.
But enough about the past. The present Rebels are powered by excellent guard play from Breein Tyree and Terence Davis, who are both averaging at least 17 points per game. Tyree was the standout scorer on Friday, netting 28 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including a 3-for-5 mark from beyond the arc, as well as a 13-of-17 effort at the free throw line. Davis only managed seven points on 2-of-11 shooting, but is usually an efficient shooter, even for someone taking five threes a game (.451/.500/.750).
In the frontcourt, the Rebels lean mostly on 6’8” forward Bruce Stevens, who can spread the floor with solid shooting range. Averaging 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, Stevens turned up against Baylor, finishing with 17 points and eight boards.
We’ve talked a lot about UC’s offensive efforts through the first few games, but the defense has not gotten as much attention. That’s because there’s never really a concern about whether the Bearcats will defend or not. While a cold start from Cane Broome (who’s back to normal after 21 points on Friday) or figuring out who will get buckets in the frontcourt (the answer is Trevon Scott and his 10.6 PPG) are questions to keep you guessing, the Bearcats will always stop other teams.
They executed their defensive plan brilliantly against George Mason, holding the Patriots to 44 percent shooting while forcing 16 turnovers and owning a 33-20 edge on the glass. Through five games, UC’s opponents are shooting just 40.4 percent. The Bearcats are also crushing their foes in terms of rebounding, with an average margin of +10.4. The equation is simple: the Bearcats don’t allow shots to go in and when those misses come, they are there to pick them up.
Despite a mostly effective defensive strategy, opponents are still shooting fairly well from three-point range against the Bearcats (36.9 percent), which could be an issue today. The Rebels are averaging 21.3 three-point attempts per game and Tyree and Davis, their two best scorers, account for roughly half of those. It’s going to take some extra effort from the wings to slow this team down. Luckily, Keith Williams (81.4 defensive rating) and Jarron Cumberland (88.5) are both strong perimeter defenders. As long as Cumberland recovers from an off night against George Mason (2-for-11 shooting), the Bearcats should take home some hardware. Cincinnati 79 Ole Miss 73