As we mentioned in the preview of the game, Cincinnati has put up some very impressive stats this season. These numbers have come by and large against weaker competition, leading one to question what UC might look like against more talented teams. A three-game stretch during which UC faced Iowa State, Oregon, and Alabama gave us a glimpse behind that particular curtain. What can we learn from those games? Well, a few things.
Cinci can be had on the boards. In their three games against tough(er) teams, the Bearcats' average rebounding margin is -2.33. For a team that has put up seriously impressive numbers on the boards, that's kind of a startling revelation. Oregon and Iowa State are both very good rebounding teams, but Alabama is decidedly mediocre on the offensive glass and worse on the other end.
It's also interesting to note that all three of the teams - and especially Alabama - went small. The Crimson Tide started with a G-G-G-G-C lineup, and their starting center logged a total of three minutes of time on the court while the guards averaged 34. Oregon's starting Center only logged seven minutes, though the interests of full disclosure compel me to point out that he did foul out of the game. As you can imagine, guard rebounding was key for both sides in all three games, and Sean Kilpatrick actually leads UC in rebounding in the contests in question. Xavier's guards need to come prepared to contribute on the boards and limit their counterparts' ability to do so.
X also has to be ready to attack Cincinnati's shot blockers without fear. In the two-point win over Alabama, Jackson and Mbodj combined to block eight shots. The willingness to get into the middle of Cinci's defense, however, served 'Bama well, and they were able to give UC their toughest game of the season. Going to the tin is an end in itself against UC. It doesn't guarantee the bigs will get in foul trouble (and UC's depth would mitigate the impact of foul trouble inside to some extent anyway) or that Xavier will have penetrate and kick options (though lifting from deep is as solid a plan as any for X). The fear inspired by shot blockers in the middle frees Cincinnati's perimeter defenders to be aggressive in pursuit of the turnovers upon which the team feeds; if Xavier doesn't have that fear, UC will have to rein in the attack on the outside.
Finally, the most important point and the one most difficult to execute for Xavier will be not letting Sean Kilpatrick take over the game. It's obvious that he is UC's best scorer, but - in their three most difficult games - he has also led the team in minutes, rebounds, assists, steals, shot attempts, three-point attempts, and free throw attempts and is second in offensive rebounds. Justin Martin will likely draw the first shot at Kilpatrick, but don't be surprised if super walk-on Landen Amos also gets a go.
In summation, a look at UC's three toughest games yielded a couple of interesting nuggets. Xavier can hang with UC on the glass, and they would be better served to attack the middle without fear. Mostly, though, it confirmed what we already knew. Keeping the number of possessions in the game as low as possible will benefit Xavier's chances at victory. David Nyarsuk is a force on the offensive boards. Titus Rubles is versatile and dangerous. And, oh yeah, it will be important to stop Cincinnati's best player.