1) Block out Yancy Gates
OK, so maybe Texas coach Rick Barnes took it a bit far when he said Texas hadn't seen anything like Yancy Gates this season. Gates plays like a poor man's Thomas Robinson, still a very effective player, but ultimately one who used his energy and bulk to average 12.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He isn't the rebounder, or the scorer that Robinson is, but his scoring is trending upward, as he averaged 17 points per game in the Big East Tournament. Gates has only attempted five threes this year, so you know exactly what you're defending. The key will be keeping his 6-foot-9, 260-pound body from getting where he wants to in the paint. It might be a job for two men, because Cincinnati doesn't play with a large lineup.
2) Exploit the size differential
This is a game where Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond could come into play, especially with their energy levels. Cincy does have another 6-foot-8 player in Justin Jackson who sees time off the bench, and he's the team's premier shot-blocker. But the Bearcats will start four guards, with none of them taller than 6-4. Texas is a superb offensive rebounding team, so this could be a chance to pick up some easier buckets that way. The Longhorns aren't nearly as good on the defensive glass, but neither are the Bearcats. Texas may play some four-guard lineup in this game itself, but when Texas has the size advantage, it's important to take advantage of it.
3) Beware the balance
You know the saying "anybody on the court can hurt you"? That sums up the Bearcats pretty succinctly. Every one of the starters has scored at least 22 points in a game this year, and three of the five starters — ironically, Gates is not included here — have scored at least 25. That means that Texas is going to have to pick its poison, and if the Longhorns decide to double Gates down low, they'll have to close out quickly on the Bearcat shooters. That's not a strength of this Texas team, which has struggled to defend the arc all year.
4) Play at an up tempo
Texas plays at a much faster tempo than the Bearcats, seeing on average 2.2 more possessions per game. And it's not that the Longhorns play at a blazing speed … it's just that Cincinnati plays at a much slower one. You could say the Big East favors a slower tempo overall, but Marquette plays with one of the nation's fastest tempos, and Louisville and Villanova are in the nation's upper third when it comes to tempo. If we've seen one thing this year, it's that Texas executes best offensively when it can get out and run a little bit. That allows for shooters like J'Covan Brown to spot up and find openings, or for Brown and Myck Kabongo to get to the basket against a less stone-walled defense. The last thing that this young team needs, or wants, is to get into a slow-paced half-court execution game. That's a quick ticket out of the tournament.
5) Get to the free throw line
This is the other way that Texas can get easy points. The Longhorns are at their best when they are driving into contact and getting players like Brown to the line for a free two. The Longhorns are a much better free-throw shooting team than the Bearcats, and that's one place where Texas could exploit an advantage. Still, don't expect the Bearcats to be willing foulers. Cincinnati isn't a very deep team, and the Bearcats haven't gone 9-3 over their last 12 games, reaching the Big East Final, by being stupid. But in what figures to be a close game, and a physical one, the line could give Texas a needed advantage.
Texas had to be excited when it drew Cincinnati since the Bearcats didn't fit either profile of a team that the Longhorns didn't want to see: they weren't a team with two really good big men (like Kansas or Baylor), and they weren't a high-efficiency offensive team (like Missouri). Texas is actually the better team according to KenPom, albeit by a small margin (the Longhorns are ranked 29th, the Bearcats 31st). Still, that's on paper, and on the court, the Bearcats are a tough team playing their best basketball right now. It won't be easy, and the Longhorns will have to play to their strengths to come out with a victory.