Below is a closer look at today's matchup.
Meet the BearcatsFourth-year Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin has a rotation with nine players averaging between 14 and 29 minutes per contest. Offsetting that balance is a collective 28 percent team effort from beyond the arc, exacerbated by a 64 percent team free throw average (Thanks to a quality effort in the paint and on the boards, Cincy has hit a solid 45 percent of its overall field goal attempts this season).
- 6'5" freshman forward Lance Stephenson (12.4, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.6 turnovers) can control a game with the ball in his hands with his ability to get into the lane and finish or find open teammates. The swingman has nice ball handling skills, court sense, and a basketball acumen. Keeping Stephenson out of the lane is paramount as the frosh has hit just 6 of his 40 3-point attempts this season.
- At center, 6'9" 260-pound sophomore Yancey Gates (10.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 60 percent foul shooter) proved too much for the Irish defensive interior in last year's meeting(15 points and 8 boards off the bench 21 minutes). A defensive presence due to his overall size and ability to control the boards, Gates has poor court vision out of the post offensively (23 turnovers vs. 11 assists) and spends too much time in foul trouble.
- Senior leader Deonta Vaughn destroyed the Irish with his penetration last season, dialing up a 19-22 effort from the charity stripe en route to a game-high 34 points (Vaughn hit just five field goals – all from long range – in the contest. The scoring guard has average 11.3 points this season, hitting at a 42 percent clip and just a touch under 35 percent from 3-point range.
Vaughn has 75 points in five conference games, though he netted just four in Wednesday's upset loss at St. John's.
- Junior forward Rashad Bishop (7.9 points, 4.5 rebounds) has average more than 23 minutes per contest over the last three seasons. Bishop is limited offensively (and for some reason has hoisted 40 three-point shots this season, hitting just 12), but is a consistent defensive rebounder and active on both ends of the floor.
- Point guard Cashmere Wright could draw the start tonight vs. Notre Dame's guard-oriented attack. The freshman has played sporadically of late after averaging better than 23 minutes per game through mid-December. Wright has struggled as a shooter, hitting 33 percent of his shots (9-30 from long range) and has made just 15 of 28 free throw attempts.
- Junior transfer forward Ibrahima Thomas has 25 points and 15 boards over his last three games and will see plenty of time as well if not start the contest. Thomas, like the bulk of the Bearcats, has struggled from the outside, hitting 1 of 11 3-point shots and 38 percent from the floor overall.
- Backup center Steve Toyloy could see 20-plus minutes of court time this afternoon in an effort to dominate the smaller Irish on the boards. The 6'8" senior is a much more effective player (and rebounder) in extended action. Backup combo guard Dion Dixon (7.1 points on 39 percent shooting) has seen his minutes decrease while hitting just 11 of 45 shots from behind the 3-point line this season, including an 0-fer effort in Big East action.
- Junior guard Larry Davis has earned just five minutes over the last two contests (after averaging more than 16 over the team's first 14 contests) but he did burn the Irish for 21 points in last year's matchup, hitting 8 of 14 shots and 3-6 from long range.
The Last TimeThe Irish dropped a 93-83 decision at U.S. Bank Arena. Luke Harangody led the way with 28 points (21 field goal attempts) while grabbing 14 rebounds and handing out five assists in 39 minutes. Deonta Vaughn led all scorers with 34 points, due largely to a 19-22 effort from the free throw line. As well, Notre Dame could not contain Bearcats freshman big man Yancey Gates, who finished with 15 points and 8 boards in 21 minutes off the bench. The contest marked the sixth consecutive loss for the Irish, who shot a season-low 23 percent from beyond the arc (conversely, the Bearcats knocked down 10 of 23 3-point attempts).
Stats and Streaks
- Tory Jackson needs one assist for his 600th and would join Chris Thomas (2002-2005) as the second player in school history at that milestone.
- Notre Dame has produced impressive offensive numbers nationally, ranking first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.69); sixth in assists-per-game (18.6); 11th in field goal percentage (.496); 13th in turnovers (11.1); and 18th in scoring offense (82.1 points-per-game).
- A win today would give the Irish consecutive road for the first time since the end of the 2007-2008 season when Notre Dame downed DePaul and South Florida to finish the conference season at 14-4.
- Notre Dame has protected the basketball thanks to the leadership of two senior guards, redshirt-transfer Ben Hansbrough ranks No. 2 nationally with a 3.71 assist-to-turnover ratio while tri-captain Tory Jackson is currently No. 3 at 3.60. No other Big East guard ranks among the nation's top 30 in the category.
- Junior Tim Abromaitis continues to scorch the nets, hitting 50.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (tied for No. 2 nationally). No other Big East player ranks among the nation's top 50 3-point marksmen.
- Senior Luke Harangody ranks second nationally at 24.9 points per game, just one-tenth of a point behind Houston's Aubrey Colemen.
- Cincinnati has been installed as a 5-point favorite for today's contest at Fifth Third Arena.
PredictionThe Bearcats return home on the heels of two upset losses (at Seton Hall and at St. John's). They're athletic, committed defensively, and can dominate the boards vs. smaller foes. The Irish struggle to rebound and defend outside of South Bend, and could have issues controlling freshman penetrator Lance Stephenson as well as the inconsistent but explosive Deonta Vaughn.
If Notre Dame can handle big man Yancey Gates on the offensive glass, and receive a better contribution from road-leery junior Tim Abromaitis (7-23 from beyond the arc in four games played outside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion), the Irish could roll into a Big Monday matchup with No. 6 Syracuse at 4-1 in conference play.
Though I expect the Irish to take the rematch in early February, and to finish ahead of the Bearcats in the final standings, Cincinnati is a dangerous team at home…one in desperate need of a W.