UPDATING THE BEARCATS
A move to a more perimeter-oriented style of play has helped the Bearcats run off ten wins in 11 games since their loss to the Musketeers, but that hasn't been the only factor. UC has 11 players averaging more than 10 minutes per game, and has played with a level of intensity that it hasn't exhibited in previous seasons. As a result, it is living up to preseason expectations, and now sits in second place in the rugged Big East.
The guard-oriented rotation is headed by starters Sean Kilpatrick, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright. Kilpatrick, a sophomore, averages 16.2 points per game on the strength of excellent three-point shooting, in which he hits 40% of his tries. He's also a good rebounder, collecting 4.7 per game. Dixon follows closely with 13.9 points per outing, which he scores from both inside and out. He's not a high percentage shooter, but gets to the line more than any other Bearcat. Wright rounds out the staring trip with 10.4 points and a gaudy 2.1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
That group is the foundation of an impressive collection of backups, which includes Ja'Quon Parker, who has been outstanding since joining the lineup after a groin injury forced him to miss the first seven games of the year. He's averaging 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 23 minutes per game, and is every bit the threat of any of the starters. Ge'Lawn Guyn (3.2 ppg) and Jeremiah Davis (3.8 ppg) also add double-digit minutes of support off the bench.
While UC's lineup has drawn some comparisons to the four-guard sets run by conference teams such as Villanova, it's not as if it bereft of inside play. Hulking Yancy Gates averages 12,4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, while fellow starter Justin Jackson chips in with 5.1 points and 4.7 boards per contest. Jackson serves as the team eraser, having blocked 30 shots to date.
Support off the bench comes from a group of players who don't put up big individual numbers, but combine to give head coach Mick Cronin a number of options. Freshmen Jermaine Sanders and Octavius Ellis, along with junior Cheikh Mbodj, team up to contribute 6.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. With 15 fouls to give among them, they allow UC to aggressively defend without fear of being caught short of bodies in late game situations.
West Virginia defended well on the perimeter against Marshall on Wednesday, and it will have to duplicate that effort in order to knock the Bearcats out of second place in the league standings.
WVU 14-5, 4-2
UC 15-4 5-1
WVU - 14
UC - 85
Another factor that has helped UC tremendously is a lack of turnovers. They are averaging just more than ten per game (and only 6.8 per contest in league play), which means they don't waste a lot of possessions. As a result, they get almost five more shots per game than their opponents, despite being outrebounded on the year. That may not sound like a lot, but at their current shooting percentage that equals more than four points per game. UC has won five games by four points or fewer this year, which makes that a very important stat.
West Virginia might not be able to match that level of ballhandling efficiency, but it must limit the head-scratching turnovers that have plagued it at points this year. In trying to push the ball and force tempo, some turnovers are going to occur, but giveaways in which the ball is thrown directly to defenders or misses the intended target by wide margins must be eliminated. WVU is making 46.7% of its shots from the field (its best mark since the 1996-97 season, so if it can maximize its opportunities by not giving away possessions, it will continue to be very difficult to beat.
WVU can even its all-time series record against the Bearcats with a win, which would be its fourth consecutive victory over UC.
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UC is on a number of runs in Big East play. It is 5-1 in the league for the first time ever, has won seven consecutive road games, and is 10-2 in its last 12 conference game.
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Deniz Kilicli has made something of a magical recovery from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the Marshall game. During that contest, he hobbled back and forth from the bench during timeouts in a protective boot that would have fit Italy, but he shed it in time to have a full go at practices on Thursday and Friday. While his starting status is up in the air, expect to see him on the floor.
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The two teams have very similar records over their long histories. In 111 seasons, UC has a won-loss total of 1622-949, which yields a winning percentage of 63%. West Virginia, in 103 seasons, is 1616-996 (61.8%).