SCOUTING THE BEARCATS
The Bearcats own league wins over some of the toughest teams in the Big East. A road win over Louisville and home victories against Pitt and Villanova are very impressive. However, those are offset by losses to Seton Hall and St. John's, teams that UC might have expected to defeat in light of its other league victories. Thus, Cincinnati is a tough team to analyze as the mid-point of the conference season nears.
Leading UC's efforts is dynamic guard Deonta Vaughn, who averages a far and away team best of 17.5 points per game. Vaughn (So., 6-1, 195 lbs.) can score from anywhere on the court, and is the team's best shooter. He also passes effectively (carrying a team-high 85 assists). His backcourt running mate is Jamual Warren (Sr., 6-2, 195 lbs.) who contributes on several levels. He tallies 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, and also sets the offense, averaging better than four assists per outing. He is a solid defender who muscles opponents out of their preferred positions, and does many of the little things that free up Vaughn to operate on the offensive end.
On the front line, John Williamson (Sr., 6-6, 225 lbs.) is a strong operator who can muscle his way to the hoop. He is not a great shooter, which hurts him at the free throw line, where he has made just 47 of his 83 tries. Still, his 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game are major contributions to UC's success. Rashad Bishop has been the best of a large freshman class this season, averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Bishop (Fr., 6-6, 220 lbs.) is improving every time out, and figures to be a stalwart in the UC lineup over the next three seasons. Rounding out the starting five is Adam Hyrcaniuk (Sr., 6-10, 230 lbs.). The Poland native puts up 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, mostly from the inside, but can also step out and hit the three if left unattended.
Sometime starter Marvin Gentry provides punch for the Bearcats off the bench. Along with Vaughn, Gentry (Sr., 6-3, 180 lbs.) is UC's three-point threat, and averages 6.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Helping out with backcourt backup duties is Larry Davis (Fr., 6-3, 180 lbs.), who chips in with 4.1 points per game.
The frontcourt substitution pattern is a similar mix of experience and youth. Marcus Sikes (Sr., 6-8, 230 lbs.) provides the veteran angle, but has made just 9-41 tries from three-point range while posting 3.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. He might be better served operating inside and getting to the free throw line, where he is 12-15 on the season. Anthony McClain (Fr., 6-11, 245 lbs.) had identical 3.3 marks in points and rebounds per game, and also leads the team with 17 blocked shots. Alvin Mitchell (Fr., 6-5, 215 lbs.) rounds out the bench effort with 2,7 points and 1.3 rebounds in his 10-plus minutes per contest.
The pupil vs. teacher angle is the easiest one to follow for this game, but it's also one of the most misleading.
|Wed Jan 30
WVU 15-5, 4-3
UC 9-11, 4-4
|Sirius Channel: 121|
WVU - 31
UC - 114
So, with the two coaches employing similar styles, the question comes down to matchups, and to which team plays to its strengths the best. Look for the Bearcats to dribble-drive as much as possible, to force West Virginia to defend the ball on the bounds for lengthy stretches. Watch too, for high screens and cross court motion, which the Mountaineers likewise do not deal well with (what is it with crossing routes and WVU teams, by the way?)
On the WVU end of the court, look for more emphasis on physical play, especially on offense. The Mountaineers did not take the ball strongly to the basket against Georgetown, and although the strong Hoya defense had something to do with that, there was also a certain timidity to West Virginia's offensive attack. On only a couple of occasions did WVU truly attack the rim in the manner in which Huggins expects. Several other drives ended in meek shots or passes back to the perimeter, with those resulting in lost scoring chances. Finishing strongly on drives has been a focus this year, and the step backward witnessed last Saturday has likely resulted in some refresher training in practice this week.
In the end, this is a game that West Virginia has to win in order to move up in the league standings and keep its drive for an NCAA tournament berth alive. A home loss to a middle-of-the-pack Big East squad (and those are Bearcat head coach Mick Cronin's words) would be devastating to WVU's chances, especially after it squandered a huge RPI boost against the Hoyas.
WVU: Joe Alexander (Groin) Probable, Da'Sean Butler (Hand) Probable
UC: Mike Williams (Achilles) Out, John Williamson (Unspecified) Probable
In his 18 months on the job, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin has singed, or welcomed as transfers, a total of 16 players. That's more than the equivalent of an entire roster turnover. The middle levels of the Cincinnati rosters show the most holes as the Bearcats have just two juniors and one sophomore on their availability list.
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Two Mountaineers have had great success involving Cincinnati. Alex Ruoff, who grew up in the Queen City and had dreams of playing for head coach Bob Huggins and the Bearcats, has had two of the best games of his career against his former favorite team. Ruoff posted 21 points in the game at Cincinnati, then followed that up with 23 points at home against UC.
Huggins, of course, had even more notable achievements. Under his direction, the Bearcats advanced to postseason play in each of his 16 seasons, reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament three times, including a Final Four appearance in 1992. Huggins had 10 conference regular season titles and eight league tournament titles at UC.
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The Bearcats hold the NCAA "iron team" mark courtesy of its 75-73 win over Bradley on Dec. 21, 1981. The Bearcats prevailed only after playing seven overtimes.
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Ruoff is also creeping up the career list of three-point shooters at West Virginia. With 141 successful threes, Ruoff is now eighth on WVU's all-time list. He is just four makes behind Steve Berger (145), and trails all-time leader Kevin Pittsnogle (253) by 112. Ruoff would have to average approximately 2.5 threes per game over the rest of his career to catch Pittsnogle.