Cincinnati's trademark has been midsized, athletic players that can run, jump and defend, and although their numbers have been depleted over the past year, they still put a solid team on the floor. The three-forward front line of Eric Hicks, Cedric McGowan and Ronald Allen are tenacious defenders and tireless pursuers of the ball. Hicks (Sr., 6-6, 245 lbs.) is the best offensive threat, averaging 14.4 points per outing. He's an active player on both ends, picking up 9.5 points while also rejecting 3.6 shots per game. Many of his blocks come from off the ball as he moves to help on opponents penetrating inside.
McGowan (Jr., 6-6, 230 lbs.) is an excellent complement, averaging 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Allen (Jr., 6-9, 225 lbs.) functions as a center at times, and is making just his second start in the shuffled Bearcat lineup. He averages 3.0 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, but will likely better those numbers as his minutes go up.
In the backcourt, tall James White (Sr., 6-7, 200 lbs.) uses his superior size to get to the basket. He has taken more free throws than anyone on the team, and makes nearly 85% of his chances, which accounts for many of his 16.5 points per game. He will also swing to the frontline when backup guards come in to give the Bearcat frontcourt players a breather. Point guard Jihad Muhammad (Sr. 5-11, 175 lbs.) looks to score as much as he does to distribute the ball, which explains his low total of 36 assists. He has taken more threes (106) than any other Bearcat.
Off the bench, guard Devan Downey (Fr., 5-10, 175 lbs.) who has started 19 games this year, will see plenty of action, He averages 12.7 points per game, and handles the ball much better than Muhammad. Fellow guard Chadd Moore (Sr., 6-2, 175 lbs.) provides more experience, but less size and aggressiveness, in the backcourt.
While Notre Dame was, in many respects, a mirror image of WVU, UC is a different kettle of fish entirely. The Bearcats depend on superior athleticism and defensive intensity to create scoring chances. UC isn't a good three-point shooting team, so it depends on getting the ball to the basket, either in transition or off dribble-drive penetration. Stopping those forays, as well as keeping the quick-jumping ‘Cats off the boards, will be the major tasks for the Mountaineers as they try to keep their perfect conference record intact.
|Sat Feb 4|
WVU 16-4, 7-0
UC 15-7 4-4
WVU - 28
UC - 30
UC will also likely pressure West Virginia in the backcourt in order to keep WVU from having so much time to set up and run its offense. If the Bearcats can make WVU burn eight or ten seconds getting the ball into the frontcourt and starting a play, they will have a much better chance of holding down the Mountaineer attack.
In the Notre Dame preview, the question was raised as to how all the close losses the Irish had suffered would affect them. Even though ND absorbed another agonizing loss against WVU (and it's nice to write those words!) you have to give the Domers credit for continuing to battle. Will Cincinnati, facing a good bit of adversity and battling to hold its position in the conference, fight just as hard?
While a bit of the buzz may have been removed from this game when former UC coach Bob Huggins was canned, Mountaineer fans should note that this is a huge game in terms of WVU's postseason chances. Win, and WVU already has eight conference victories, and a huge leg up on making it into the top four of the league. That attendant bye in the first round of the Big East conference is massive, monstrous, monumental – pick your adjective. Should the Mountaineers get one of those spots, it will likely be largely due to a pair of wins gained in the first week of February.
WVU: Kevin Pittsnogle (Fatherhood) Questionable
UC: Armein Kirkland (Knee) Out, James White (Ankle) Probable
With nine games left in the regular season, plus at least one game in the Big East tournament, WVU is now in the "last ten games" window. Why is that important? One of the components of the RPI report that is used by the NCAA tournament selection committee is a team's performance in its last ten games. And while a 3-7 finish probably wouldn't keep WVU out of the tournament, it certainly wouldn't help its seeding much.
In a way, putting too much emphasis on the last ten games is unfair, due to the vagaries of scheduling. West Virginia, for example, has a much more difficult second half conference schedule than many schools, which could play a factor in the selection committee's determinations.
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UC struggles to shoot the ball accurately. The Bearcats are 205th in the nation in field goal percentage, hitting just 43% of their shots. The story is even worse from three-point range, where they 252nd with a mark of just 31.6%.
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Saturday's game marks UC's first visit to the Coliseum in 27 years. WVU dropped that game by the score of 79-65 in Gale Catlett's first season as coach. Catlett had previously coached the Bearcats before returning to his alma mater.
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In the last calendar year, WVU's combined football and men's basketball record is 54-12.
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The last six times Cincinnati has joined a new league, it has won the conference champions ship in its first year of participation. UC captured the Buckeye Athletic Association title in 1925-26, the Mid-American Conference championship in 1946-47, the Missouri Valley Conference crown in 1957-58, the Metro Conference Tournament championship in 1975-76, the regular season and tournament titles in the Great Midwest Conference in 1991-92, and the regular season and tourney championships of Conference USA in 1995-96.