Upsets can feel so random.
Why, for instance, is Tennessee able to beat Wright State by 26 points on Thursday while Gonzaga barely squeaked by UNC Greensboro? Wright State came in as a 14 seed, and UNCG a 13 seed – could one spot make that big of a difference?
The Cincinnati Bearcats hope to avoid Gonzaga’s fate, and easily dispatch of Georgia State when they face off in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.
Georgia State enters the game winners of four straight, including the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship. Prior to that four-game winning streak they had lost four of their previous five games. In a rare twist of fate, they actually turned around and beat three of the four teams that they had just lost to in the previous two weeks.
The Panthers finished the season 24-10, but their two best wins were against Louisiana Lafayette and Montana. They lost six games to teams ranked 175th or worse according to KenPom.
After winning their conference tournament semifinal game thanks to an extremely lucky, bad shot from Devin Mitchell. After a timeout in the final seconds, Mitchell took and inbounds pass and shot immediately thinking the shot clock was about to expire – it wasn’t. It didn’t matter, Mitchell’s desperation heave went in and the Panthers are in the NCAA tournament. March Madness indeed.
If you’re a fan of Cincinnati sports, this Georgia State team should remind you of the Bengals – all talent, but prone to some mental lapses.
The Panthers are led by sophomore guard D’Marcus Simonds who is averaging 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Simonds does most of his damage near the basket, but Georgia State has three players shooting near or better than 40% from behind the three-point line, including the aforementioned Mitchell, who has shot 45.1% from the three this season.
However, the Panthers haven’t faced a team with anywhere the level of defensive talent that the Bearcats possess. It’s one thing to shoot 40% on three-pointers when you’re playing South Alabama, it’s a whole other thing when you’re facing Cincinnati.
In the end, the starting guards may just offset each other. The Panthers will likely get just as much production from Simonds and Mitchell as the Bearcats do from Jarron Cumberland and Jacob Evans. The difference, however, will be in the paint. Georgia State doesn’t have anyone to defend either Kyle Washington or Gary Clark.
Georgia State’s tallest defender is Jordan Tyson at 6-9. Tyson only plays 10.1 minutes per game, and at 230 pounds he simply doesn’t have the kind of overpowering size or strength he’d need to overcome his deficiency of skill when defending Washington or Clark.
I expect the Bearcats to recycle the game plan they employed throughout the AAC tournament, which was to simply feed Clark and Washington in the post as often as possible and let them wear down the opposing team’s defenders.
The Jacob Evans Problem
Prior to the AAC tournament last weekend, Evans had a run of three straight games where he averaged 15.0 points per game and shot over 50% from three-point range. He appeared to be peaking at exactly right the time.
Unfortunately, it appears he may have peaked too early because he was absolutely atrocious during the tournament shooting just 1-14 (7%) on three-pointers and 9-34 (26%) overall.
The Bearcats desperately need the good Evans to show up this weekend. If he’s unable to, it puts additional pressure on every other player on the roster who depend on defenders to play tight on Evans and open space elsewhere. Those open three-pointers that Cumberland and Cane Broome often receive are open because of the respect opposing defenders have for Evans.
Georgia State is good, but they’re not that good. Cincinnati has won 11 games against teams ranked better than the Panthers, and haven’t lost to a team worse than 23rd in KenPom’s rankings all season — Georgia State ranks 95th.
The Panthers may stay competitive in this game thanks to some early three-point shooting, as Bearcats fans, it’s hard to expect anything less. But, I expect Clark and Washington to dominate the paint and provide the steady presence the offense needs if the outside shots aren’t falling for the Bearcats again.
Look for potential big games from Jenifer and Broome as well. Georgia State has length at the guard position, but not exceptional speed. Jenifer and Broome could make some noise going toward the basket and drawing fouls if the Panthers play man-to-man. Given how the Bearcats have been shooting, I’d expect plenty of zone though.
In the end, the Bearcats depth and talent should win this one easily. I’m expecting this to look like the 78-53 win Cincinnati had over Wyoming earlier in the season.
Final Score: Cincinnati 81, Georgia State 66