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Game Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. UConn Huskies

Let’s hope the Bearcats aren’t too tired from their battle with Tulsa on Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There really is no time to rest during the college basketball season. Following a taxing overtime victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Thursday, the Cincinnati Bearcats will be right back in the action on Saturday when they host the UConn Huskies at Fifth Third Arena.

It is a bit easier to recover from a tiring game when you win. Luckily for the Bearcats, they were able to do just that in a 70-65 triumph over Tulsa. It took a late surge from Cane Broome and some head-scratching mistakes from the Golden Hurricane, but when the dust settled, the Bearcats were sporting a 13-3 overall record and a 2-1 mark in American Athletic Conference play.

The win against Tulsa was just the second on the road this season for the Bearcats, who are returning home where they have won 10-straight and 43 of their last 45 games over the last three sesons. The next team to challenge that dominance is UConn.

Who are the UConn Huskies?

The Kevin Ollie era started with a national title and ended with a 14-win campaign. Unfortunately for the Huskies, during the last few seasons, they were closer to that second result than to the first. That’s what led them to let Ollie go and hire Dan Hurley.

Hurley’s influence on the team has already begun to show. The Huskies are playing at a much faster pace than they did under Ollie, ranking 43rd in the country in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom. To put that into context, the Huskies ranked 236th a year ago. Moving faster hasn’t necesarily translated to more success. The Huskies are scoring 78.4 points per game, but shooting just 46.4 percent while ranking 111th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Everything came together on the offensive end on Thursday, however, as the Huskies buried 52.4 percent of their shots, including 9-of-19 from three, in a 76-64 win over the SMU Mustangs at Gampel Pavilion. That win ended a three-game losing streak and earned them their first league win of the season (10-6, 1-2). That record has been influenced by just a single true road game, which resulted in a 76-68 loss to USF.

While Ollie is no longer around, the Bearcats will still see an old friend on Saturday, as star guard Jalen Adams hits the floor as the Huskies’ leader. Adams is shooting a career-best 51.2 percent from the floor and not being asked to carry the team by himself. After playing more than 35 minutes per game in each of the last two seasons, including 38.1 a year ago, Adams is averaging 30.5 minutes this season. That rest is helping. In addition to that career-best shootuing percentage, the 6’3” guard is scoring more points per 100 possessions (30.5) than he ever has, while his offensive rating of 113.2 is nearly 10 points higher than his career mark.

Adams isn’t alone in the backourt. Both Alterique Gilbert (13.2 points per game) and Christian Vital (12.7 points per game) are capable scorers who are each shooting 39 percent or better from three on at least 4.5 attempts per game.

Blocks and Boards

The Bearcats have been outrebounded only three times this season. Interestingly enough, they have gone 2-1 in those contests, with wins over UNLV and Tulsa and a loss to Mississippi State.

If you just look at the raw numbers, the Bearcats are not a very impressive rebounding team. They rank only 164th in in the country in total rebounds per game (35.5). However, they are a top 20 squad in rebound rate (55.0 percent). They are particularly strong in cleaning up after their own misses, ranking 14th in offensive rebound rate (35.4 percent).

In comparison, the Huskies average more rebounds per game than the Bearcats (36.0 per game), but they are leagues away in rebound rate (51.8 percent, ranked 109th). However, their two best offensive rebounders (Eric Cobb and Josh Carlton) have higher offensive rebounding rates than anyone on the Bearcats.

While they are a solid rebounding team, the Bearcats are even better when it comes to protecting the rim. They are eighth in the nation in block rate (9.9%) and have averaged 6.3 rejections as a team in conference play. Beyond the expected contributions of frontcourt defenders like Nysier Brooks and Eliel Nsoseme, the Bearcats have benefited from active defensive help from wings like Keith Williams, who is fourth on the team in block rate (5.1 percent) and second in blocks per game (0.9).

Once again, the Huskies may not have the same type of shot-blocking talent, but they are far from out of their element in that regard. They are 25th in the country in block rate (8.7 percent) and have two players averaging at least one block per game in Carlton and Sidney Wilson, who swatted three shots against SMU.

On paper, the Bearcats would seem to have the edge in both of these areas, but it’s not as sure a thing as it appears on a surface level.

Prediction Time!

Controlling the pace of play will be particularly impotant in this game. In the past, the Bearcats and Huskies were both comfortable in sluggish affairs where defense won the day. Now that the Huskies have left that life behind, the Bearcats need to use their exceptional defense (20th in adjusted defensive efficiency) to squeeze UConn, while sticking to their own deliberate style on offense.

In addition to the team-wide mandate, the Bearcats will need a bounce back game from Brooks as well as a continuation of what Cane Broome did in the final minutes against Tulsa. That second part will be particularly critical if Adams heats up since the Bearcats can’t hope to win if top scorer Jarron Cumberland (16.6 PPG) is the only guy getting the ball in the basket.

It’s a lengthy to-do list, but its one the Bearcats should be able to complete. Cincinnati 68 UConn 60