Looking to avoid their second three-game losing stint this season, and their six loss in their last seven contests, the Bearcats will need to do these things and more in order to hold off a potential upstart Bulls squad that is in the midst of their own eight-game skid.
*SIZE – Defensive Rebounding
It will be crucial for the Bearcats to hit the defensive glass against the Bulls. As always, the Bearcats will have to face a taller starting line. USF will bring 6-10 rebounding machine Solomon Jones (10.1 rpg.) and undersized power forward Mattis McHugh (7.7 rpg.) to the court. While not a great rebounding team, in fact UC out rebounds the Bulls on average 37 to 35, the Bulls hold a +3.4 margin over their opponents on the season. Cincinnati, who has seen their rebounding efforts worsen with the loss of their tallest player, Armein Kirkland (6-8), has been exploited at times on the defensive glass. A mixture of a lack of size and a tendency to leak on the break have hurt the Bearcats' rebounding cause. USF is not a team that scores many points (61.5) because of their inability to make the best of opportunities they are presented with, so giving them second chances to put points on the board. UC must contain the Bulls rebounders on the offensive glass, holding them to about 12 off the glass. If they allow more than that UC will have to block shots or force kick-outs in order to win.
* Eliminate Outside Opportunities; Make Them Beat You Inside
On second thought, allowing kick outs may not be the greatest alternative for the ‘Cats either. USF is a team that lives and dies by the jump shot. James Holmes is one of the best three-point marksmen in the country, connecting on over 39-percent of his attempts on the season, and the slasher Collin Dennis takes the majority of shots for the Bulls. Despite only playing 56 combined minutes in their loss to Villanova, the tandem shot nearly half of the team's 48 field-goal attempts (23). When you toss small forward Melvin Buckley into the mix, a player that despite standing 6-6 feels just as comfortable standing on the wing and shooting jumpers, USF will be very guard/perimeter oriented in terms of the scoring.
*Make Someone Else Beat Ya!
For those of you that believed UC was plagued with a short bench, you have not seen anything until you see South Florida play. This is a team that's hampered greatly by a lack of quality depth. Though they certainly have bodies, the worth of their collective parts has bought the USF coaching staff little peace of mind this season. In their last outing against ‘Nova only seven Bulls hit the floor, six of them for over 25 minutes (the seventh played seven total minutes). South Florida's entire frontcourt played nearly the entire game, and two of them did play all forty minutes. If Eric Hicks and McGowan are able to create a presence down low the Bearcats backcourt can break down the defense and get in the lane, the Bearcat should not only get shots at the charity stripe but could put a maligned USF team in foul trouble. Foul trouble is almost a surefire trip to the butcher shop for this set of bulls. Even if the ‘Cats do not necessarily benefit from getting to the line or are unable to create foul trouble for their opponents, the up-and-down style Andy Kennedy's club likes to play will surely wear down a weary South Florida team. Though they have had quite a lengthy layoff, the Bearcats rendition of forty minutes of hell can do a number on even the most fit basketball player.
Hustle buckets and living off opportunities their speed and athleticism create for them has allowed this young, small, thinly manned Bearcat team to achieve the early-season success it has to this point. The Bearcats are one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers, and when they get a team to turn it over they take advantage. Aside from the toll it takes on a team's body chasing the speedy Bearcats (who more closely resemble cheetahs on the hardwood) up and down the floor, it gives a pretty streaky shooting UC team a chance to get some easy buckets and keep the crowd in the game. USF is prone to turnovers, committing just over 20 per contest, and if they do so again tonight it could be a long two periods of action for the Bulls. If the Bearcats can win my "Hustle Equation" (fast break points + points off turnovers + forced turnovers/steals) they should come out ahead.
*Step on Their Throats
While not quick to assume UC will jump out to a dominant lead during Tuesday night's showing, the possibility for a double-digit Cincinnati advantage during the contest is likely. What will be crucial for the Bearcats is how they will handle their assumed success. The Bearcats have shown the ability to go on runs and get ahead of teams by playing dominant defense and running up and down the court. We know they do not turn the ball over (fourth nationally – 11.8 per game), so this team should not beat themselves. However, at times UC has looked complacent on the court when they have gotten ahead of teams. Ranging from their early season woes, to their streak of being on the wrong end of a lopsided score, Cincinnati is a team that will go on as many scoring runs as they will runs up and down the court.. They are very streaky and seem to let teams get back into the contest at times. While USF has struggled mightily in recent weeks, dropping their last eight, you can not allow USF to hang around. If UC does not step on their collective throat when they have the chance it could be another disappointing loss.
The Bulls took two of there recent contests into overtime. Five of their losses, including each of the last three, have been by six or fewer points. If Cincinnati gives USF another opportunity to learn how to win then fans could be in for a long night.