Cincinnati, mired in last place in the conference, appeared to be playing out the string until it upset Seton Hall in overtime in its last contest. Since upsetting West Virginia on Jan. 20, the Bearcats lost ten consecutive games, and in only two of those were they within ten points of their opponents at the final horn. Among the painful losses was a 71-70 loss to Providence in which UC gakked up a 70-62 lead with just 1:41 to play. However, the win over the Pirates showed they haven't thrown in the towel just yet.
UC modified its starting lineup halfway through the losing streak, with supersub Marvin Gentry moving into the starting lineup six games ago. He was the difference in the win over the Mountaineers, as he scored a career-high 32 points against a step-slow WVU defense. Gentry replaced Cedric McGowan in the starting lineup, and although the move didn't pay immediate dividends, it did make the hyper-aggressive UC team even more so right off the bat.
Freshman Deonta Vaughn continues to sparkle during UC's dismal season, averaging 14.3 points per game while ppiling up a team best 53 steals to date. Were it not for Eugene Harvey at Seton Hall, Vaughn would likely be the favorite for Big East Newcomer of the Year.
The Bearcats continue to utilize a mostly six-man rotation, which, given their frenetic style, might indicate they have worn down some over the long conference season. However, the Senior Day win over Seton Hall will likely have rejuvenated them a bit, and no doubt they would love to complete the process, begun in the first game this year, of knocking the Mountaineers out of NCAA consideration.
There will likely be a lot of crowd attention paid to profane UC coach Mick Cronin by the WVU crowd on Saturday, and that's probably what he wants.
|Sat Mar 3
WVU 20-8, 8-7
UC 11-18, 2-13
|Sirius Channel: 122|
WVU - 55
UC - 167
West Virginia has far bigger things to worry about than a diminutive coach railing at officials. If the Mountaineer players or coaches are concentrating more on what Cronin is doing than what it happening on the floor, it could end up with the final NCAA knockout blow on its record. Instead, WVU must remain calm, especially in the face of UC's constant pressure defense, for that is where the game will be won or lost.
In the first half of the first game of this year's series, West Virginia moved the ball well against the Bearcat press. The Mountaineers pass the ball diagonally against the zone and got a number of open shots early in the offense. WVU knocked down enough of them to move out to a 17-point lead, and it appeared as if the game was well in hand. Unfortunately, in the second half, the Mountaineers crumbled against a simple defensive adjusment, one where UC double-teamed the ball as soon as it crossed halfcourt. For some reason, WVU lost its composure, and failed to attack the big gaps that result from that tactic, and ended up losing the game.
No doubt West Virginia will see the same tactic again in this contest. Perhaps not at first, although UC will certainly pressure the ball. But at some point in the game, either in the midst of a UC run or at a point where the Bearcats need to generate momentum, the halfcourt trap will be shown. If WVU can handle it (poise and fundamental passing will do the trick), the Mountaineers will roll to a Senior Day win. But if the visitors can generate turnovers and get the Mountaineers out of their offense, another dogfight will ensue. UC averages more than 16 points per game off opponents' turnovers – and when they push that number into the 20s, they have a good chance to win.
If West Virginia does break the press, it must also not succumb to the thought that it has to get shots away in a hurry. UC's press was made even more effective by WVU's shot selection in the Jan. 20 game, when the Mountaineers often fired up hurried three-pointers on the few possessions when it broke the double-teams cleanly. In this game, they need to look to attack the basket, then roll into the half-court offense if nothing is available in transition.
WVU: Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out
UC: Marvin Gentry (Ankle) Questionable
Rob Summers and Frank Young will get their recognition as graduating seniors before the game, and although the pair probably won't be remembered as much as last year's Fab Five, it's appropriate to take a few moments to reflect on their contributions to this Mountaineer team. In addition to their on-court contributions, both have been good leaders and teachers for the next group of players who hope to continue WVU's winning ways in the Big East Conference.
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Can the Bearcats again shoot the lights out? UC makes just 30.8% of its threes, yet shot 45% (9-20) against WVU in the first game. Five of those came from Gentry, who was simply unconscious against the Mountaineers.
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Marchis tournament time in college basketball, and WVU has done well in the year's third month. West Virginia is 176-136 (.564) in its March basketball history.
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If UC sub Connor Barwin's name sounds familiar, you were paying attention during the WVU-UC football game. Barwin is a backup tight end on the Bearcat football squad who had 13 catches for 148 yards and two TDs this past fall. Barwin pulled off a back-to-back game stint by playing in UC's football win in the International Bowl on Jan. 6, then playing 12 minutes the next day in a basketball game against Rutgers.
Barwin's participation isn't a stunt, either. His time has been increasing over the last few games, and he has been a solid contributor along UC's height-challenged front line. Although he has missed six games this year due to football conflicts, he has been on the court for 20+ minutes in each of the Bearcats' last three games.