The Cincinnati Bearcats have had to wait for a while to bounce back from their road loss to the Houston Cougars last Sunday. A week has passed since then, which hopefully means the Bearcats will be rested and focused as they host the Wichita State Shockers at Fifth Third Arena on Sunday afternoon.
After winning eight-straight games, the Bearcats were in unfamiliar territory when they collapsed in a 65-58 letdown against the American Athletic Conference-leading Cougars a week ago. The road loss fed into UC’s somewhat mediocre work away from home this season, as the Bearcats are just 5-3 in such contests. Luckily, they will be back home for this matchup with a goal of extending their 14-game winning streak at Fifth Third Arena.
Even if this game doesn’t have the same pomp and circumstance as the battle with Houston, it is still an important one. The Bearcats are 20-4 overall and 9-2 in league play, which is impressive, but with the Cougars now 11-1 against the AAC and UCF and Temple lurking just behind them, the Bearcats need to keep winning to have a shot at the regular season title or, at the very least, maintaining the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Reintroducing the Wichita State Shockers
One of the Bearcats’ few road wins this season occurred on Jan. 19 when they visited the Shockers and left with a 66-55 victory. That result started a mini-spiral for the Shockers, who lost three-straight starting there. However, they have shown real signs of life during the last few weeks. They enter Sunday with four-straight wins, even if they have also been off for quite some time since their last game, which ended in a 77-62 victory over Tulane last Saturday.
Wichita State is now 12-11 overall, which won’t be earning them any love bracketology-wise, but they have battled back to the middle of the AAC standings (5-6) with plenty of time to rise even further. What might hold the Shockers back is their struggles on the road. UC might not be great in that regard, but the Shockers are almost hopeless, with a 1-6 away record this year.
Markis McDuffie has done all he can to win games for the Shockers, both at home and away. The 6’8” forward can score from anywhere, averaging 18.9 points per game while shooting 38.5 percent from three on 6.4 attempts per game. He’s been even better in conference play, netting 19.1 points per game while shooting 39.5 percent from three. In the win over Tulane, he was especially effective, finishing with 25 points and eight rebounds while making 8-of-14 shots from the field.
Samajae Haynes-Jones serves as Wichita State’s secondary scorer (12.7 PPG). However, he has struggled with his efficiency, with a PER of just 11.7 and a true shooting percentage of 47.4. Despite that, he can still be a dangerous scorer, as he showed during a recent win over East Carolina when he scored a game-high 18 points on 7-of-9 from the field.
While McDuffie and Haynes-Jones handle the bulk of the scoring responsibilities, Jaime Echenique is the defensive leader. With a team-best defensive rating of 93.9, the 6’11” center is great at protecting the rim (9.8 percent block rate) and shutting down low-post scoring threats.
Even with the efforts of their big three, along with help from guys like Jamarius Burton (22.1 percent assist rate) and Erik Stevenson (13 points against Tulane), the Shockers are just 124th in the country in adjusted offense, while 10th in scoring among AAC teams since conference play started.
Recapping the First Meeting
While the Bearcats ended up defeating the Shockers by double digits when they played earlier this season, it was far from an easy victory. The Bearcats shot just 39.1 percent from the field and lead scorer Jarron Cumberland, despite tallying 18 points, struggled to find his rhythm, especially from inside the arc (3-for-12). The Shockers actually posted a superior effective field goal percentage (48.1 vs. 44.6), but UC’s defense limited their chances and kept them to a fairly meager offensive rating (87.3).
The real difference in the game could be found at the foul line, where the Bearcats outscored their hosts 25-5. In addition, powered by 10 apiece from Trevon Scott and Nysier Brooks, the Bearcats won the rebounding battle by a wide margin (36-26), even though they were outscored 18-14 in the paint while allowing McDuffie to produce 21 points.
A week to prepare and their home crowd behind them should serve as a real boost to the Bearcats. Considering that they were able to overcome a pretty uneven offensive showing against the Shockers last time, there is every reason to believe the Bearcats can repeat the outcome on Sunday. To do so, they’ll need Keith Williams and Justin Jenifer to show out like they did last time when they scored 14 and 17 points, respectively, and for Cane Broome to avoid another dreadful shooting performance (0-for-4 from the field against the Shockers). Assuming even some of that comes true and that Cumberland keeps padding his AAC Player of the Year resume, the Bearcats will win. Cincinnati 70 Wichita State 60