Preview - Syracuse Visits Cincinnati

In college hoops, just as in life, timing is everything. Two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Bearcats were playing like one of the best teams in the Big East Conference, if not the nation. Employing a brutally physical style on both ends of the court, the Bearcats overcame a pair of early season losses and found a state of equilibrium that enabled the team to reel off 10 consecutive victories

First year coach coach Andy Kennedy has his team playing with a swagger that was reminiscent of the team's rise to prominence in the 1990's.  But then the setbacks began. 

 

First, came an ankle injury to Eric Hicks, Cincinnati's best rebounder, defender, and inside scorer.   Then came an even more devastating setback—a season ending injury to versatile Armein Kirkland, the Bearcats tallest starter and best outside shooter.  The Cincinnati team that Syracuse University faces tonight is one that is both depleted by injury and coming off of a tough 70-59 loss to Connecticut on Monday night—a game that was much closer than the final score appeared.  Coach Kennedy and the Bearcats [13-3, 2-1] are desperate for a win to right the ship and get back on track.

 

Timing.

 

Things have been a little smoother for Syracuse this season.  After going through the motions in back-to-back losses to Florida and Bucknell, the Orange have quietly built an 11 game win streak, capped by an impressive road win over Notre Dame on Wednesday.  For the season Syracuse is 14-2, with a perfect 2-0 record in Big East play.

 

The Orange are in the midst of a scheduling gauntlet.  After today's contest against the aggressive Bearcats, Syracuse has to face Uconn, Villanova, and Pitt—all ranked within the top 11 teams in the nation—in rapid succession.  Although no contest in the Big East is ever a "gimme," the Orange need to capitalize on the fact that Cincinnati is depleted and score a victory to avoid heading into that three game stretch on a losing note. Amazingly, Saturday's game between the ‘Cuse and Cincinnati represents the first time that these two programs have ever faced one another.

 

Meet the Bearcats:

 

Statistics for the 2005-2006 Cincinnati Bearcats are listed below [provided by ESPN.com]:

 

NAME

GMS

MIN

PTS

REB

AST

TO

A/T

STL

BLK

PF

FG%

FT%

3P%

PPS

James White

16

33.4

17.6

5.4

2.2

2.3

1/1.1

1.6

1.0

2.7

.505

.875

.422

1.54

Eric Hicks

16

33.3

15.1

9.1

1.3

1.3

1/1

0.7

3.7

2.0

.516

.721

.333

1.28

Devan Downey

16

28.8

13.3

2.3

4.0

2.2

1.8/1

2.1

0.3

2.1

.448

.831

.250

1.31

Armein Kirkland

16

28.1

9.7

3.4

2.1

1.6

1.3/1

0.6

0.6

2.0

.352

.791

.306

1.07

Cedric McGowan

16

26.6

8.8

7.1

0.8

0.6

1.3/1

0.9

0.2

1.9

.510

.738

.313

1.37

Jihad Muhammad

16

22.1

8.4

2.4

1.8

1.8

1/1

0.7

0.3

2.3

.389

.765

.358

1.07

Ronald Allen

16

8.2

3.3

1.9

0.1

0.7

1/11

0.2

0.3

1.8

.472

.714

.533

1.44

Domonic Tilford

9

7.8

2.9

0.7

0.9

0.6

1.6/1

0.2

0.0

0.7

.400

.667

.182

1.04

Chadd Moore

11

16.5

2.6

1.5

1.5

1.2

1.2/1

1.1

0.1

1.6

.333

.800

.176

1.07

DeAndre Coleman

6

7.2

2.2

1.5

0.3

0.0

-

0.2

0.2

0.2

.286

.667

.250

1.86

Erick Murray

6

3.8

0.8

0.8

0.0

0.2

-

0.2

0.0

0.5

1.000

.500

.000

2.50

Branden Miller

6

1.8

0.5

0.3

0.0

0.2

-

0.0

0.0

0.0

.500

.500

.000

1.50

Patrick Watt

6

1.7

0.0

0.5

0.3

0.2

2/1

0.2

0.0

0.2

.000

.000

.000

-

 

 

Coach Kennedy has taken a program that returned only four scholarship players and molded the team into a competitive, hard-nosed, high scoring machine.  The Bearcats best player—and primary offensive cog—is swingman James White. 

 

White should be a familiar name to Syracuse fans; the 6-7 senior from Maryland was a primary recruiting target for Coach Jim Boeheim, before White elected to attend the University of Florida.  After a season of playing in "the Swamp," White elected to transfer to Cincinnati, where he has emerged as an impact player at the collegiate level.  White is shooting a career-best 50.5% from the field, including an impressive 42.2% from three point range. 

 

Although not a natural playmaker, the Bearcats' offense often runs through White, who operates like a "point forward," a player capable of not only breaking down his own man to create scoring opportunities, but one who is also capable of setting up his teammates.  The athletic White thrives in transition, and excels at getting to the hoop.  He's also the team's best defender—capable of guarding quick guards and burly big men alike.  Given the team's injuries and lack of size, coach Kennedy often asks him to do both in the same game.

 

The heart and soul of the Bearcats is 6-6 senior Eric Hicks, a blue-collar brawler who reminds me of Chuck Hayes [formerly of Kentucky].  Hicks utilizes a no-frills style to bull his way to the hoop inside.  Despite the fact that he gives up size to nearly every opponent, Hicks has been virtually unstoppable inside, using a combination of positioning and brute force to devastating effect on both ends of the floor.  For the season, Hicks is averaging 15.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.  He's also not afraid to step outside and let fly with an occasional trifecta.  Just how much he will be hobbled by the lingering effects of his ankle injury remains to be seen.

 

The third starter in the Bearcats undersized frontcourt would have been swingman Armein Kirkland, a gifted offensive player who threw his name into NBA draft contention before opting to return to Cincinnati for his senior season.  Although not as powerfully built as Hicks, Kirkland had a lithe strength that enabled him to battle on the interior and match up defensively with bigger players inside.  He also provided perimeter firepower similar to Demetris Nichols for SU, and the Bearcats are certain to feel his loss.

 

The Bears will compensate by relying more heavily upon JUCO transfer Cedric McGowan, an undersized power player in the mold of Hicks and former Bearcat Jason Maxiel.  McGowan does most of his damage inside, and thrives on doing the team's dirty work [8.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game].  Alongside Hicks, he gives Cincinnati

The most pleasant surprise of the season for Cincinnati has been the play of freshman point guard Devan Downey, a 5-10 waterbug from South Carolina.  Downey is a "shoot first" point guard, but he still leads the team in assists at 4.0 per game.  Although more of a slasher than a shooter at this stage of his development [only 25% from three point range], Downey has managed several 20+ point outings.  He is third on the team in scoring at 13.3 per game.

 

To compensate for Kirkland's injury, Kennedy will start either Chadd Moore or Jihad Muhammad in the backcourt along with Downey.  Moore is a 6-2 senior from Huntsville, Alabama who is more of a defensive specialist.  His career offensive numbers are not pretty.  For the season, he is averaging only 2.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game, while shooting 33.3% from the field [including an anemic 17.6% from three point range].  Moore has gone scoreless in the last two Big East games.

 

Muhammad is a power guard who is more scorer than playmaker.  His numbers are down this season due to the fact that he was edged from the starting lineup by Downey, but he is still an important cog in the Cincinnati offensive machine.  For the season, Muhammad has averaged 8.4 points per game in 22 minutes per contest.  Expect both of those numbers to rise due to Kirkland's injury.  Muhammad is not afraid to let fly, and is a competent three point marksman [35.8% from three point range] who has a tendency to fall in love with his jumper.  When  he's on, he's tough.  He's also a scrappy defender.

 

Rounding out the Bearcat rotation are center Ronald Allen and diminutive guard Domonic Tilford.  Allen provides a big body [6-9, 225], but he hasn't done much in Big East play [2 points and 2 rebounds total in three conference games] after a promising start.  What he does provide is depth and five additional fouls on the interior for Kennedy to employ.

 

Tilford is a freshman from Louisville, Kentucky who has only received sporadic playing time over the last thirteen games.  The 5-11, 170 pound point guard could see his playing time increase, due to the injury situation.  He averages 2.9 points per game, but less than one rebound and assist per contest.

 

Even further down the bench is DeAndre Coleman, a 6-6, 225 pound frosh from Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Coleman has not played in 10 of Cincinnati's last 11 games, but could be called upon now to help compensate for the loss of Kirkland.  For the season, he's averaging 2.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.

 

Prediction:

Although the Bearcats represent a second consecutive formidable road test for the Orange, expect Syracuse to prevail.  Today's game is the first sellout of the season for the Bearcats, so the atmosphere at Fifth Third Arena should be raucous and hostile towards the visiting Orange.  They will need to show the same poise that the team displayed against Notre Dame to come out of this contest with a much needed win.  Are the Syracuse players going to be caught looking ahead?

 

Syracuse  72  Cincinnati 64

 


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