"He's a funny guy," Gansey said. "You always think Cincinnati, real tough guys. And he is, but he's real down to earth, a nice kid and a tremendous player."
The stats back it. Cincy's 6-6, 240-pounder averaged 6.6 points per game (Gansey averaged 6.4) and had seven blocks at the games. But he has turned it up in Big East play and now averages 9.5 rebounds per game, third in the league behind Pitt's Aaron Gray and South Florida's Solomon Jones. Hicks leads the Big East in blocked shots with 3.59 per game and 79 on the season.
"He is about my height, maybe an inch or two taller," Gnasey said, "but he's a brickhouse. He is pure muscle and he strives off his athleticism. He is great at rebounding and blocked shots."
Hicks also leads in the conference in offensive rebounds, which has been a weak spot for the WVU defense in its last three games. The Mountaineers must contain Hicks inside if they are to win their eighth league game in a row – especially with Kevin Pittsnogle, who's wife, Heather, went into labor today, possibly being out due to the birth of his first child.
"Well, you can count on them outrebounding us, I can tell you that," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "They are big and athletic. And (Hicks) is very good. Ten to 11 rebounds per game at 6-6? He's just a stud. Mike knows him well from playing together, and he has told us how good he is."
Cincinnati, at 15-7 overall and 4-4 in the Big East, would get a significant boost from a road win before it hosts Louisville, a team to which it already lost, then plays at Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Bearcats have lost to Dayton, Memphis, Connecticut, Syracuse, Xavier, Louisville and Georgetown under interim coach Andy Kennedy.
"They have played one of the toughest schedules in the country and are 4-4," Beilein said. "There are a lot of teams that would like to be 4-4 in the Big East right now. They are a great addition to the league."
Hicks and Gansey last spoke when WVU's football team played at Cincinnati. It won, 38-0, for its lone shutout of the season. The margin of victory was its greatest of the year, enticing Gansey to phone Hicks toward the end of the game.
"I asked him, ‘Eric, you at the game? You watching these guys?'" Gansey said. "He said ‘Man, you guys are good. You're killing us. They can't stop (running back Steve) Slaton.' He was just watching it somewhere, and that was the last time I talked to him. It's kinda funny. But it will be good to see him tomorrow. He's just a warrior, relentless and athletic."
Gansey leads the Big East in steals (2.30 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (49.5).
*Beilein, on Pittsnogle's playing status: "Everybody is just waiting and hoping and praying that everything turns out fine. We're just hoping for a healthy baby. We hope they will have it by the end of the day today. He will be a very proud papa. I expect him to play, and I would assume there will be a bit of adrenaline going, if I know Kevin. We will play it by ear."
Rob Summers (4.1 minutes per game, 0.4 rpg, 0.4 ppg) will start if Pittsnogle is unavailable.