Now that we’ve had some time to think on the NCAA Tournament, some opinion have begun to cement themselves. At Down the Drive, we are stoked for the Cincinnati Bearcats’ run in the Big Dance and our staff has come together to share their thoughts on the greatest tournament in sports.
How far do you expect Cincinnati go advance?
J. Scott Sewell (@jscottsewell): This is such a tough question for me. I have 30+ years of experience watching the Bearcats disappoint me. I thought this year was going to be different. This was the great defensive team that actually was capable of scoring. I was convinced of it. And then they played Xavier and all of the old memories came back. I believe this team has the talent to beat anyone in the nation, but for whatever reason, they disappear in the biggest moments. Losing in the first round is just as possible as winning it all. When I fill out a bracket I’m going to pick them to at least reach the final four because I think they have a relatively easy draw, and any big upsets could make it a cake walk to the elite eight. That said, I won’t be shocked if they shoot 25% against Georgia State and lose on Friday.
Clayton Trutor (@ClaytonTrutor): Cincinnati will be cutting down the nets in San Antonio.
Jeremy Keown (@J_Keown1121 ): I’ve got UC making a run to the Elite 8. I think they should be able to handle whoever they end up facing in the first couple rounds and the Sweet 16 fairly decently. However, I believe once they end up facing a team with an offense like Arizona (ranked 15th in KenPom), they won’t be able to keep up with them in a shootout (UC has the 54th ranked KenPom offense). I’d love to see this Bearcats team run to the Final Four to verify that this team is not a pretender (there are those who think that since they played in the AAC that Cronin’s team isn’t a top team, despite, you know, winning 16 straight), but also to send out Gary Clark on a high-note to end his UC career.
Phil Neuffer (@philneuffer): I would love to have Clayton’s confidence, but I’m just a bit lower. The Bearcats need to be playing with a chip on their shoulder, because they are one of those No. 2 seeds a lot of people like to hate. I fully expect them to win the first two rounds, but it will be tough from there. Conservatively they are a Sweet 16 team, but I’ll go so far as to call an Elite Eight run.
Who is the toughest team in UC’s region?
JSS: It’s a tough, deep region, but I think Cincinnati has the talent to beat everyone. Take your pick from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arizona and Creighton. The matchup that would scare me the most is Creighton. They are battle-tested, having faced both Xavier and Villanova twice and are capable of scoring in bunches. But really, Cincinnati needs some March Madness intervention. Maybe Buffalo can repay the city of Cincinnati with an upset of Arizona in round one?
CT: Virginia is the best team in this tournament not coached by Mick Cronin. They take control of every game they play, forcing their opposition to grind it out for 40 minutes of Bennett Ball.
JK: I know the easiest/obvious answer would be Virginia since they’re the number overall seed, but, until they show that they can make a deep run in the tournament, I won’t buy them. Yes, that pack line defense frustrates everyone, but if it comes down to a shootout, I don’t know if the Cavaliers have enough firepower to keep up with someone. I’m actually going to go with Arizona in this regard. I don’t know why, but I get the feeling that there is going to be a Game of Thrones-esque justice system where at one point the Wildcats were all but certain of losing Alonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton and head coach Sean Miller for the season. Now? They get everyone back. I know they stumbled a bit out of the gate and had the weight of the FBI investigation wear on them, but I think they started to put things together towards the end.
PN: Jeremy almost convinced me otherwise, but I can’t pick against the team ranked No. 1 in the country by KenPom and the No. 1 overall seed. Virginia has beaten all sorts of teams this season, from the offensively excellent like Duke to the similarly defensive minded like Clemson. I struggle to see another team stopping the Cavaliers.
Which player needs to step up the most for the Bearcats to make a deep run?
JSS: Jacob Evans. No doubt. He was terrible in the AAC tourney. If he doesn’t find his shot then the Bearcats won’t last past the first weekend.
CT: Jacob Evans needs to get back in the groove offensively. I am confident that he can shoot his way out of this funk if he can get enough open looks.
JK: I don’t know if it’s so much as “needs to step up” because I don’t think this player really fell off, but I think Cane Broome needs to continue to play well for the Bearcats to make a run. The Athletic has a really good article about Broome coming in known as a scorer, but developing in to more of a team-first oriented player, and I really think the Bearcats have benefited from that, especially with Broome coming off the bench.
PN: Evans is the easy and correct answer. He made just one three-pointer in the AAC tourney and UC somehow found a way to win the title, but that won’t fly, especially as the competition ratchets up round by round. Part of the issue has been health, but Evans is the team’s best scorer and it will need that desperately when things heat up.
Who did you pick to win it all and why?
JSS: Cincinnati because I just want to put that kind of positivity out into the world. We all need to collectively will this damn thing into existence, because the Bearcats are going to drop a level next year. This is their one shot.
CT: Cincinnati. They are quicker, slicker, and thicker than the Cavaliers.
JK: Duke. They’ve got senior leadership in Allen, along with the usual top-5 pick caliber NBA talent in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Add that to a team that sits in the top-10 in KenPom for both offense/defense, and I think the Blue Devils win the title.
PN: My heart says Cincinnati but my head says Villanova. Jalen Brunson is fantastic and the Wildcats are deep beyond that. They knocked that whole losing in the second round narrative two years ago, and I expect the best offense in the country to win out.
How many brackets are you filling out this year?
JSS: Just a couple. I’ll probably do the one that the guys on One Shining Podcast are promoting, and then see if there’s one going around the college I attend.
CT: Just one. Just for you, my public.
JK: Just one at work. For the (embarrassingly) amount of college basketball that I watch/read up on, I’m absolutely horrible at making tournament predictions, so I just stick to the one bracket and take my losses.
PN: One because I am an adult.
What is your biggest upset pick?
JSS: Montana over Michigan.
CT: The entire tournament will be chalk until Cincinnati beats Virginia in a couple of Sundays.
JK: Davidson over UK. Screw the Wildcats.
PN: St. Bonaventure will beat UCLA and then beat Florida.