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NCAA tourney: Cincinnati scouting report

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The Bearcats’ physical defense that rarely gives up easy baskets will present the toughest challenge for Kansas State in Sacramento.

NCAA Basketball: AAC Conference Tournament-Connecticut vs Cincinnati
The Bearcats have some dangerous weapons on offense but it’s their defense that stands out as one of the best in the country.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like me (and probably K-State players and coaches) you didn’t watch much Cincinnati basketball this year. The Bearcats play in the American Athletic Conference, a tier below the big leagues, and they don’t have any All-Americans or can’t-miss NBA Draft prospects. They didn’t even have any First Team All-AAC selections.

So even though I didn’t spend nearly as much time as the K-State coaches and players surely have, I did make an effort to get to know the Bearcats through their last two games. First, I watched Cincy’s 71-56 loss to a very good SMU team in the AAC championship, when the Bearcats had a rough offensive night and shot terribly from the outside, perhaps due to some tired legs.

Then I watched their physical, foul-filled, poorly officiated 81-71 win over a pretty mediocre and injury-depleted UConn team. The two teams combined for 56 fouls and Cincinnati made 38 of 46 free throws. Based primarily on those two games along with some supplemental info from season stats and announcer comments, I tried my best to put together a scouting report to give you a better idea of what to expect Friday night. But first, let’s look at the Bearcats by the numbers.

Record: 29-5 (16-2 AAC)
RPI: 12 KenPom: 23
Quality wins: at Iowa State 55-54 (OT), vs. SMU 66-64, vs. Xavier 86-78
Bad losses: None
KenPom Adjusted Off. Efficiency: 114.2 pts/100 possessions (NCAA Rank: 35)
KenPom Adjusted Def. Efficiency: 92 pts/100 possessions (10)
KenPom Adjusted Tempo: 63.5 possessions per game (327)
KenPom SOS: 84th NCAA
PPG: 74.5 (146) Opp. PPG: 60.8 (5)
FG%: 45.4 (114) FG% Def.: 38.5 (8)
3FG%: 34.3 (206) 3FG% Def: 34.1 (132)
FT%: 68.3 (241)
FTA/game: 19.3 Def. FTA/game: 16.2
3PA/game: 21.6 Opp 3PA/game: 20.1 (130)
Assist/turnover ratio: 1.58 (4) Opp. assist/turnover ratio: 0.8 (29)
Turnovers/game: 10 (5) Opp. turnovers/game: 13.7 (121)
Rebounding margin: +4.5 (48)
Off. Rebound %: 34.6% (17) Def. Rebound %: 73.9 (130)

LEADERS
PPG: Jacob Evans 13.7, Kyle Washington 13.1, Gary Clark 10.7, Troy Caupain 10.1
RPG: Clark 7.9, Washington 6.9, Caupain 4.5, Evans 4.1
APG: Caupain 4.6, Evans 2.6, Clark 2.0
3FG%: Evans 41.8%, Washington 38.5%, Justin Jenifer 37.8%, Jarron Cumberland 35.3%
FG%: Clark 52.5%, Washington 51.3%, Tre Scott 50%, Cumberland 48%, Evans 47%
FT%: Kevin Johnson 82.5%, Evans 72.5%, Washington 70.8%, Clark 70.3%

OFFENSE
Awful start falling behind 11-2 vs. SMU, shooting 1-15 from the field; struggled when they settled for jumpers, best when attacking and going inside to big men, then kicking back out; played some 4 out 1 in to isolate Clark; sometimes goes 5 out against zone and man-to-man, like to run with screeners at the elbow out of that set; will attack in transition if available but don’t look for it much; big men can play effective high-low game or are mobile enough to run dangerous pick-and-roll; making more than 75 percent of free throws last 6 games; rarely turn the ball over and big men crash the glass hard but team gets back well off missed shots, so it’s tough to get fast breaks.

DEFENSE
Primarily man-to-man, didn’t extend much past 3-point line until big deficit vs. SMU but applied more pressure vs. UConn; switched on every ball screen; susceptible to the dribble-drive on the perimeter, but great help defense, so no easy buckets; good at getting in passing lanes or getting hands on the ball to force turnovers on drives.

Matchup zone with Clark, Washington or Moore in the middle sometimes will extend out; good communication and decent defensive rebounding, but doesn’t always close out tight on shooters; Went to trapping fullcourt press late against SMU and played some token 2-2-1 and man-to-man 3/4 court pressure to slow down UConn.

STARTERS
G Troy Caupain, sr., 6-4, 210 - tough senior point guard, leads the team with 31.9 mpg, played 38 vs. UConn and 33 vs. SMU; excellent ballhandler, doesn’t turn the ball over; great passer, broke school record for assists; generally content to pass but capable of creating his own shot, go-to-guy in key situations or when holding for final shot; scored 37 in season finale vs. UConn; intelligent defender and key leader.

F Gary Clark, jr. 6-8, 225 – 2016 AAC Defender of the Year, good shot blocker and outstanding lateral quickness/positioning; powerful inside offensively but looked a little uncomfortable and couldn’t always find the open man when he drew a double team anywhere near the basket vs. SMU; plays at the front of the fullcourt press; great athlete, capable of rising up over people, scoring off the dribble, through contact; made 15-16 FTs vs. UConn and destroyed Huskies 1-on-1.

G Jacob Evans, 6-6, 210, so. – drives well, not afraid to go inside; team’s best 3-point shooter, good range; mostly smart shot selection; lacks discipline occasionally on defense against the drive, but recovers well; eager to take key shots.

F Kyle Washington, 6-9, 230, jr. - big and physical inside, decent shot blocker (1.2 bpg), left-handed shooter with solid post moves, quick first step, slips through defenders well; can step out with jumper and shoot 3 on occasion (15-39 for the year); tough, physical defender, but not great lateral movement.

G Kevin Johnson, 6-3, 185, sr. – mediocre shooter (37%, 31% from 3); averages 8 ppg but didn’t score (0-7 FG) in last 2 games and hasn’t scored more than 7 in last 7; good quickness on defense but slight frame can be a detriment, especially if forced to guard inside.

BENCH

G Jarron Cumberland, 6-5, 218, fr. - attacks the basket hard, always looking to drive and score; can shoot from outside, sometimes makes bad decisions but can also make difficult shots; great strength for a freshman; scored 26 off the bench vs. UCF; Co-AAC Sixth Man of the Year; surprisingly bad FT shooter (64.4%); a little lazy defensively and very beatable off the dribble.

F Quadri Moore, 6-8, 230, jr. – only 8.2 mpg, can be tough inside but not as physical and likes to stay on perimeter more; not afraid to shoot the 3 or take contested jumpers; good feet defensively.

F Tre Scott, 6-8, 225, fr. – 10.4 mpg but barely played lately and only 4 minutes vs. UConn/SMU combined; doesn’t shoot the 3

G Justin Jenifer, 5-10, 175, so. – 13.4 mpg but only played 2 minutes vs. UConn and 0 vs. SMU; averages 3 ppg, 2 apg, shoots 41% from 3.

C Nysier Brooks, 6-11, 240, fr. – Only 8.3 mpg, played 13 minutes vs. UConn; good rebounder but not the strongest finisher for his size; imposing presence on defense, though sometimes slow to react

Analysis/Keys to Victory: Cincinnati relies on its tremendous defense and is even less interested in getting into a shootout than Kansas State. Push the ball when possible and any easy transition points off turnovers would be very valuable. In the halfcourt, the ‘Cats must attack the basket hard but be under control and ready to pass when the help arrives. Maybe try to get Clark in foul trouble. Don’t settle for contested outside shots that will be available most of the time.

Play disciplined defense and force the Bearcats’ guards to make shots from the outside with plenty of help on the dribble-drive, especially if you’re guarding Johnson, but be aware if any of them get a hot hand. Leave guys too open, and Caupain will make you pay. Don’t give Clark space to work 1-on-1 and be prepared to fight for rebounds. Cincinnati won’t lose its poise so keep playing for all 40 minutes. However, this isn’t a team likely to put up points in a hurry or come back from a big deficit. Establishing a sizeable early lead would be a huge advantage for either team.