You can call it a trap game. You can call it the penultimate game of the regular season. You can even call it the first game of March. Regardless of how you want to categorize it, the No. 10 Cincinnati Bearcats will be back in action tonight in a road contest against the Tulane Green Wave at Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans.
Who are the Tulane Green Wave?
A new challenger approaches. UC has largely been able to ignore Tulane this season, as this will mark the first and only scheduled meeting between the two programs. So what has the Green Wave been up to while the Bearcats were busy becoming a top 10 team?
The short answer is improving. Last year, they managed only six wins all season, but now they are 14-14 overall and 5-11 in American Athletic Conference play. That conference record is their best since the 2014-15 campaign when they went 6-12. However, February was a pretty rough month, as Tulane lost six-straight games before finally righting the ship against USF last Saturday.
In that 79-68 win, Tulane shot 52.4 percent from the floor, even though its three-point shooting was pretty ghastly (4-for-17). Despite the poor long range shooting, the Green Wave offense was smooth, as they assisted on 20 of 33 field goals and turned in an offensive rating of 119.7.
Is that going to be sustainable against UC? Probably not. The Green Wave may be scoring 74.7 points per game, but they rank 131st in the country in adjusted offense. They are also not the best rebounding team, offensive or otherwise, so if their shots aren’t falling, there is little hope that they will get second looks.
Tulane also is not a very deep team, with five players accounting for the bulk of their offensive might, led by Melvin Frazier, who is a star in this conference. A guy who can do it all, Frazier is averaging 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He does all that while shooting at a pretty efficient rate (.565/.388/.723). Cameron Reynolds is another standout, averaging 15.4 points and 6.4 rebound per game, although he does not have the offensive efficiency that Frazier does. Three other players on the team are averaging in double figures, but after that, freshman guard Caleb Daniels (6.6 PPG) is the only contributor putting in more than four points a game.
Conference Title Within Reach
Why is this a trap game? There’s a few answers to that question. First, and most importantly, this is the only challenge left before UC gets a road rematch with Wichita State this Sunday. That game is going to decide many things, specifically in terms of seeding in both the AAC and NCAA Tournaments. It will also give the Bearcats a chance at revenge, the marquee win that has eluded them and the outright regular season league title.
But they have to beat Tulane first. Therein lies the second reason that this is a trap-type game, as the Bearcats just need to win tonight to get a share of the AAC crown. However, if they are too focused on Sunday, they could let it all slip away. That written, with Gary Clark leading the way, I don’t expect the Bearcats to fold tonight.
Jarron Starts. Gary Closes
Speaking of Clark, last Sunday was senior day for the Bearcats and what a fine one it was. In it, we got to appreciate the current and future makeup of the team. Sophomore Jarron Cumberland netted 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting (4-of-6 from three) in the first half alone, helping UC remain in range of a feisty Tulsa squad. Clark then finished the Golden Hurricane off (with some help from Jacob Evans and Cane Broome), with 15 second-half points on 6-of-8 shooting.
The win was the second-straight for the Bearcats, who improved to 25-4 overall and 14-2 in conference play. They are also ranked sixth in the country by KenPom and rank 45th in adjusted offense and second in adjusted defense entering tonight’s contest.
It’s tough not to peak ahead at Sunday’s epic showdown with the Shockers, but the Bearcats have to remain focused on Tulane. Mick Cronin has the coaching skills to make sure his team keeps that mindset. Plus the depth of the Bearcats should win out even if Frazier and Reynolds will be difficult to deal with.
Cincinnati 72 Tulsa 63