Scouting the Shootout!! UC Fans Salivating!!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 1/25/2017

The crowds in Clifton are climbing as the Bearcats numbers are improving. The students are turning out and they're boisterous again. UC's exceeded 10,000 for their last 4 home wins (Marshall,Tulane,SMU and Temple).Thursday's Crosstown Shootout against Xavier (7PM-ESPN2) is sold-out (13,000 plus). Cincinnati's resume is eye popping!! 17-2 overall, 7-0 in the AAC,10 straight wins dating back to December 10th at Butler(75-65 loss),11-0 at home this season with 19 straight Fifth/Third Arena victories dating back to December 29th,2015 against Temple. Most fans and pundits agree that this is Mick Cronin's best team. The signature bedrock Bearcat defense is as stingy as ever (Top 10 NCAA-61.4 PPG allowed-#5 in points/possession given up per Ken Pomeroy-#4 in effective FG% defense at 42.6%). UC's also a big plus in rebounding with strong stats on the offensive glass and they don't foul much and they don't turn the ball over a lot. The news gets worse for Muskie fans. UC is scoring the ball much better(77.3PPG). All five starters are scoring threats and they're willing to share the ball.

NC State transfer Kyle Washington(6-9,230) is a potent low block-middle post threat(lefty with a lethal baby hook over his right shoulder)(13.4PPG-7.1 REB-29Blocks). XU will have to double team him quickly and take away that left hand.Coach Cronin isn't always enamored with Kyle's defense though and he can get into foul trouble.

6-6 Sophomore Wing Jacob Evans scared me last year when he dropped a big number on Butler,but he sprained an ankle against Morgan State and wasn't a factor at Cintas in Xavier's wire-to-wire 65-55 win. Evans is healthy now and leads UC in scoring(14.2PPG). He's a future NBA guy. Who guards him? Maybe Muskie Senior Malcolm Bernard??

The Bearcats have the luxury of starting two Senior guards.Troy Caupain is basically a four year starter at the point(10.8PPG-4.4 Assists-5.5 REB and just a stunning assists to turnover ratio of over 3 to 1). Caupain has played decently in three Shootouts. He and running mate guard Kevin Johnson(6-3,Summitt Country Day-8.8PPG) are 0-3 against XU though. Johnson has not been much of a factor in the three defeats by XU,but he is playing well recently and scoring the three ball. The pressure is squarely on those two to lead-score-defend and bring home the win.

The other starter is 6-8 235 Junior Gary Clark(9.8PPG-6.9REB). He's 0-2 against the Muskies. Clark can be a moose (14 points-7 rebounds against Xavier two seasons ago in Clifton). He is so unselfish though-almost to a fault.Don't wake him up!! Clark vs Trevon Bluiett may develop as a match-up.

The Bearcat bench is five players deep. Wilmington HS Frosh Jarron Cumberland (6-5 215) is a prolific scoring rock of a player(6.1PPG) who shoots the three and gets to the FT line. Back-up PG Justin Jennifer has improved as a Sophomore. He will play some minutes when Cronin moves Caupain off the ball. Rangy 6-8 RS Frosh Tre Scott hustles-rebounds-defends-supplying energy off the bench. 6-10 Frosh Nysier Brooks is a shot blocker. Fan favorite Quadri Moore (6-8 Junior) had a break-out scoring game at Tulane.

Cronin seems more wedded to man-to-man defense this season with less match-up zone. He has a veteran team that knows assignments and does not usually foul much. Against good teams and Xavier qualifies up there as one of the better teams on UC's schedule along with Butler and Iowa State and SMU, Cronin seems to play the starters 30 plus minutes with less bench contribution.

UC's league isn't blockbuster. The two wins over Temple get my attention. Cincy lost to Temple twice last season. This is not a vintage Temple Owl Fran Dunphy team though.SMU was a nice win,but the Mustangs are trending down without Larry Brown IMHO. The Bearcat win at Iowa State is impressive. Comparative scores are a slippery slope in college basketball.

Bottom line-UC is strong across the board in terms of experience-depth-talent-and they have the home court. They are the logical analytical favorite Thursday.

XAVIER CAN WIN THIS!!!

The Muskies are far from chopped liver(14-5,4-3 in the unforgiving Big East). Contrasting UC's 11-0 home record to XU's 1-4 road record might feed Bearcat supporters' confidence,but the "Ls" were booked at snake pits(Baylor,Colorado,Villanova and Butler). Hopefully,XU has learned from those experiences. Fifth/Third is a tough venue. UC wins 9o% of their home games. The Muskies though have found success in Clifton over the years(5-7 in 12 games-more wins than any other opponent). So called upsets are not uncommon (The Lenny Brown game in 1996-The Dee Davis game in 2015).

This is a talented XU group. The Big Three have positive Shootout accomplishments. Tre Bluiett made the tying and winning FTs in 2015. He played well in the Georgetown win Sunday at Cintas(24 points). Trevon has to take whomever is guarding him to the basket and play that simple road driving game. J.P. Macura was a dynamo in the win over UC at Cintas as he was vs Georgetown.

Edmond Sumner played a strong second half vs Cincy last season and ended all doubt with a thunderous tomahawk dunk. The Muskies need all three engaged and productive to pull the mild upset-hard to deliver on the road against a talented opponent. The equation for victory is easy to articulate and demanding to execute. The road atmosphere will be wild and hostile.

XU needs to focus on defensive stops with the packline and make UC settle for jump shots frequently. Kills(three stops in a row) are a must. Rebounding and free throws are the fuel for road wins. Xavier is a strong rebounding team. Distaining quick jumpers-driving and drawing fouls is a game the Muskies play well.

Senior contributions are always paramount in the Shootout. Rashid Gaston and Malcolm Bernard have just one bite at the UC apple. Both are mature 5th year players. I expect strong efforts a la Remy Abel the past two seasons.

Muskie bench guys can outplay their UC counterparts. Sean O'Mara and Kaiser Gates are ready to blossom. Quentin Gooden again needs to play a simple game-defending UC's point guard-taking the ball to the rim. He gives Edmond rest and if he's playing well allows Chris Mack to move Sumner off the ball where he's harder to find and control. Tyrique Jones supplies freaky athleticism if his knee allows.

SHOOTOUT WILD CARDS:

Xavier's won three straight against UC. The Muskies have started quickly in all three games-leading by 16,12 and 16 at the halves. The three point shot has been a Xavier ally in all three wins(XU 27-48 56%)(UC 16-56 28%). The Muskies normally break even in the three point category. UC has played a lot of match-up zone in those three losses for them. This Bearcat team uses much more man defense.Will they be able to do a better job guarding the arc??

Xavier has deployed the 1-3-1 zone successfully the last two seasons in the Shootout. In Clifton 2015 the zone forced several key turnovers in the second half. At Cintas last season X went zone the final 8 and a half minutes and Cincy scored just 8 points. The defense stifled any UC comeback hopes. Can Chris Mack sprinkle in some zone against the better shooting Bearcats on the road?

FEARLESS PREDICTION:

This one should be close. I like that Xavier is considered the underdog by most. It reminds me of 1985 (Larkin vs McClendon), 1996 (Lenny Brown-Gary Lumpkin-James Posey-Darnell Williams vs #1 in the Country), 1999 (Kevin Frey at the end vs #1 again), 2004 (The start of the Run) 2015 (Dee Davis). XU wears that underdog mantel well.

Muskies 68, Bearcats 66!! Four in a Row for the First Time in Series History with more to come!!!

BIG EAST UPDATE:

Marquette upset #1 Villanova Tuesday night in Milwaukee 74-72. VU led by 17 early in the second half and by 13 with 5:43 to play. Coach Wojo player a 1-3-1 zone to engineer the comeback with Nova settled for jump shots. Marquette received great play off the bench for the second straight game from USC transfer Katin Reinhardt(19 points). He had 21 in Saturday's 102-94 win at Creighton. Duane Wilson came off the bench to man the zone top. UNC Ashville transfer Andrew Rowsey subbed well also. My point is MU is dangerous(5-3 in the Conference) a half game up on Xavier(4-3).

Villanova is now 7-2 after winning the last three BE Titles at 16-2,16-2 and 16-2. The Wildcats are still terrific,but everybody else is closing the gap. Villanova has not lost back-to-back games since 2013. VU hosts #12 Virginia(16-3) at Wells Fargo Sunday(1PM-Big Fox-Channel 19 locally). UVA has won 5 in a row.They just clobbered Notre Dame in South Bend. This is "Must See" TV Sunday.

Xavier plays St Johns later-6PM at Madison Square Garden(FS1). Marquette's use of the 1-3-1 as a comeback tool not just a lead protector or change-up defense makes me think that Xavier can use that same "D" profitably against UC in The Shootout. Villanova shoots it better than the Bearcats. Of course, Marquette was playing at home. Just thinking!!!




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