Before the 2013 football season we had an excellent Q&A with SBNation's excellent Cincinnati blog, Down the Drive. Well, with the Bearcats awaiting our Boilers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Down the Drive is back. This time it is Justin Post with some answers to my questions about Cincinnati.
T-Mill: I understand Cincinnati likes to play defense and do all the dirty work to ugly up a game. That's our specialty! Is this going to be a rock fight in the 50s?
Justin: Absolutely. Over the last decade, the Bearcats have relied on winning ugly. Part of that has to do with the rebuild that was forced upon Mick Cronin 9 years ago, but it's also the style of play the head coach prefers. UC's offense hasn't been particularly efficient in year's past, but they've improved over the second half of this season. Still, with the pace UC and Purdue like to play, I'll be shocked if this game reaches 120 total points.
T-Mill: These teams look similar in other ways. Both rely on scoring by committee rather than having one big gun. Who is your most regular performer?
Justin: Yeah, it's been a bit of a roller coaster because when sophomore point guard Troy Caupain is aggressive, he's been the man. Unfortunately, though, that's not always the case, so our most consistent effort definitely comes from our skinny - yet scrappy - junior center, Octavius Ellis.
Yes, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and, yes, he's been ejected a couple times this year for being too scrappy (bordering on careless). But he'll usually get 10 and 7 for the Bearcats rolling out of bed, so pay attention to how consistent he looks early on.
T-Mill: How do you expect to match up with Purdue's biggest strength in the size of Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons?
Justin: This is the matchup that scares UC fans the most. For me, I'm more worried about what Haas and Hammons will do on the defensive end of the floor. Sure, they'll get a few baskets just from Purdue running their sets, but the Bearcats play a hard-to-mimic matchup zone that does a good job of keeping the ball outside the arc.
On offense, though, Cincinnati typically grabs a healthy share of their missed shots and converts them into points. With the twin towers roaming the paint, it'll be more than difficult to grab offensive rebounds. And with the way Hammons swats shots from the help side, it might not matter if a Bearcat came down with a rebound under their own basket. Overall, I think you'll see Ellis have some success, but his replacement, Coreontae DeBerry won't be very effective down low. The other guy to watch near the paint is freshman Gary Clark - a throwback to how the game used to be played. His rebounding, passing, and scoring just looks so smooth it's as if you're watching a game from the late 1970s (minus the shorts).
T-Mill: One deficiency Purdue has is that it is extremely young with only one player, Jon Octeus, who has any NCAA Tournament experience. How much does this benefit a tournament tested team in Cincinnati.
Justin: In all honesty, this isn't much of a strength for the Bearcats this year. There's only one senior on the squad, and he won't play more than a handful of minutes. Of all the juniors on the roster, only one (Shaq Thomas) has any experience in the NCAA Tournament; the rest are all JUCO transfers. That leaves the two sophomore guards, Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson, and they played a combined 35 minutes in UC's Tournament game last year. In other words, tournament know-how isn't something this team is swimming in.
T-Mill: There are two common opponents. You blew out North Carolina State while Purdue won a close game in West Lafayette. You also lost at Nebraska by one while Purdue blew out the Cornhuskers. what can we learn from these results?
Justin: Not much, in my opinion. And while I realize that's easy to say considering the Bearcats lost to Nebraska, it's the truth. Even their blowout victory over NC State doesn't mean a heck of a lot right now. Both of those games happened in the first third of the season - when head coach Mick Cronin was still roaming the sidelines and not watching from his couch with a bowl of popcorn. The roller coaster since has taken the Bearcats high and low - resulting in a bit of inconsistency in their play, so it's hard to draw conclusions from December's games.
T-Mill: How exactly is your strange coaching situation working?
Justin: It's definitely an odd predicament. The way Cronin describes it, he's "Pat Riley with less hair." He watches game film, meets with the players and coaches individually, and performs other low-maintenance tasks. Because of his condition, he must avoid anything that would increase his blood pressure. Luckily, it's only temporary (so they say), so he should be back to normal next season.
In the meantime, associate head coach Larry Davis is the guy screaming in practice and drawing up plays during timeouts. He and Mick work close together on game preparation, but it's definitely Davis' ship once the game starts.
T-Mill: Finally, a prediction?
Justin: As mentioned, it won't be high-scoring, so both teams should have a chance to win late in the game. The Bearcats have been surprisingly aggressive the past 6 games of the season - almost a new team - resulting in a 5-1 record (their only loss was a buzzer beater at UConn). I won't be surprised either way, but I think the Bearcats muster up enough offense in order to squeak by Purdue.