Welcome back to our semi-regular feature Friends With Bennies, where we sit down with another Big East blogger to talk about their team. Today we have Scott from Bearcats Blog to talk about tonight's game with Cincinnati. I also answered some questions for them, which you can find here.
TheUConnBlog: The biggest moment of Cincinnati's season is clearly the game-ending brawl with Xavier. What impact has that had on the team both on and off the court?
Bearcats Blog: The biggest impact that the suspensions had on the team was that they completely reformatted the offense. Cincinnati was playing some ugly, ugly basketball in the run up to the Xavier game. I didn't say this on the blog, but I told my friends that I hated watching this team. Multiple scoring droughts were a basic guarantee for the first 8 games. They 73 points as a season high when the suspensions hit. Then the Wright St game tips off and they come out with 4 guards. They spread out the floor. The screen and rolls are working, guys are getting open looks from 3 and burying them. Cashmere Wright started playing out of his mind. That momentum carried them through the next couple of games, where they broke 100 twice. I don't think they have the confidence to pull out close wins against Oklahoma and at Pittsburgh if they don't get the confidence they built up the previous 4 games. That also encouraged Mick Cronin to break out the press a lot more. UC has been fantastic at forcing turnovers. Ask Nova and Georgetown.
Another big impact the suspensions had were that they made Mick Cronin play the bench guys. Jeremiah Davis took 2 shots and wasn't getting off the bench. All of a sudden he's playing 16 minutes a game, drilling 3s and building his confidence. He's the guard off the bench who looks to score. He popped 10 on Notre Dame. He hit the tying shot against St John's. That was not going to happen if there weren't suspensions.
Off the court, it seems to have brought the team together. The 4 guards, Wright, Kilpatrick, Dixon and Parker, seemed to all rally around each other and raise their games. You didn't get the sense they had fun earlier in the year, and now it's a 180. Winning also helps you have fun. UC has also gone out of their way to show that they have good guys. Plus, UC is having the players or Mick or both apologize to the students before the Syracuse game. I know what you are thinking, the fight was December 10, why then? I can't tell you, except to say the game being on ESPN has nothing *coughEverythingcough* to do with it.
TUB: The Bearcats are 9-1 since the brawl. Is there a direct connection there? Did you think that was possible in the aftermath? Can you attribute it to the schedule?
BB: Schedule is a gigantic reason why they are 9-1. Wright St, Chicago St, they aren't even states. Radford, Arkansas-Pine Bluff are yawners. Oklahoma isn't really great shakes. We know Pittsburgh isn't. But I think, as I said up top, those games played into the mentality of this team. They believe they can win. They had no business stealing that Georgetown game. I was hoping for 5-1 when the suspensions hit, but I would have taken 4-2. The way the schedule played out, I was hoping UC would be able to get the 2 wins at home when Gates returned and hit the ground with a 2-1 record. Now that 1 loss that was 'planned' for looks bad. It's funny how expectations work.
TUB: This is a rematch of last year's second round NCAA tournament game. That's not likely to mean much to UConn, what with the whole "NCAA Champions" thing they have going on, but I can see it having an impact on Cincinnati. How will that play in to the game?
BB: I think that it will. You have Mick Cronin coming out Monday saying that Cincinnati could have won the national title if they beat UConn. Mick Cronin told the team in the locker room after the beat Missouri "UConn is the best team we'll play the rest of the tournament and if we can get by this next game, we can win the national championship. We're going to the Final Four if we can get by UConn. You have players saying it should have been them who went to the final four. Revenge games are probably mostly media hyped, but you hear after the game that the players were out to avenge a loss. I think UC is going to be out trying to avenge that loss. It should be an intense 40 minutes. Wouldn't be surprised if UC played it like a tournament game. The fans are looking towards Syracuse already, but this is the game the coaching staff has been focused on. Not just because it was the next game.
BB: Stopping Gates can be done in a couple of ways. UConn can get him in foul trouble. Gates hasn't really responded well to double teams this season. Passing isn't his strong suit. His shooting was been down across the board. He has embraced the 15 footer from the baseline. Keeping him off the offensive glass is also important.
As for Dixon, you have to keep him out of the lane. He's coming off a game where he shot the 3 ball very well, but he's at 28% this season. If you keep him out of the lane and off the free throw line, you force him into his inconsistent jumper. Plus, he's the only Bearcat who will try to get to the stripe. Kilpatrick and Wright drive occasionally, but Dixon makes sure to get contact. He's been filling it up the past 2 games, scoring 22 in both.
TUB: Who else on the roster should UConn fans keep their eye on?
BB: Sean Kilpatrick. He's nursing a groin injury that left him somewhat hindered in the second half against Villanova. If he's back up to form, he's going to shoot a lot. He's the top of the Big East in 3s made this season, and in the top 5 during Big East play. He came off the bench last year, and has matured gracefully into the starting lineup.
Cashmere Wright deserves a mention as well. He has turned people over, he sets up the offense and he grabs the occasional rebounds that lead to breaks. His shooting has been kind of bad lately, 2-14 against Nova, but he won't worry about pulling the trigger. He's made huge shots late for this team.
TUB: Where do you think Cincinnati is going to finish this season?
BB: That's a tough one. The next 3 games, @ UConn, @ West Virginia, v Syracuse, will tell us a lot about this team. The back half of their schedule looks manageable. If they take care of business at home, and steal a couple games on the road, like this, I think they could potentially get a double bye. That's probably crazy homer talk. A single bye is a more reasonable. I'll say 6th or 7th. I will make the prediction that I'll be very worried on selection Sunday.
TUB: Do you have a prediction for the game?
BB: UConn has very good guards, which have been a huge problem for the Bearcats. You might have heard about the 39 Maalik Wayns just put on them. Kilpatrick can play solid defense if he's on Lamb. UC has won at Pitt, they've won at Georgetown, but I think this is a step too far. It should be a tight game. Being at home will give UConn the advantage.