So far this year we've had opponents that we're sort of familiar with (Alabama), very familiar with (Dayton), and opponents that we've had to Google things about (WKU). Saturday brings us the matchup that we know all too much about. The Crosstown Shootout. As always, we try to take the time to speak with a blogger from the other side to get a better perspective on the team. Today we bring you a conversation with Phil Neuffer from Down the Drive, UC's SB Nation site. Let's get started.
1.) Cincinnati is averaging 82 points per game so far this year and is 8-1. What has been the key to your early success?
There are a few reasons. Obviously, the new shot clock has picked up the pace for everyone and Cincinnati is no different. However, slicing a few seconds off the shot clock isn’t all it took to make the Bearcats a better offensive team. Mick Cronin made it clear during the offseason that he wanted this team to be quicker and more efficient offensively. With so much returning talent, including all five starters, the roster is filled with guys that are comfortable playing with each other and following Cronin’s game plan.
Part of the new strategy has included increased shooting from 3-point range. Cincy is a top 100 team in 3s attempted and 3-point shooting percentage, whereas last season they ranked outside the top 200. Along with the long range shooting, this team is passing better, a product of the play of Troy Caupain and freshmen Justin Jenifer, who, along with Jacob Evans, have provided a boost of youth and offensive talent.
2.) I've seen a lot of praise so far for Octavius Ellis. How good is he this year?
I think Ellis is the best player in the American Athletic Conference. His traditional stats may not blow you away, but they are still very strong (11.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 BPG). A deeper dive into his advanced stats really gives a better picture, unless you are watching him on a nightly basis and see how critical his contributions are on each end. He has an offensive rating of 116.2 and a defensive rating of 79.7, which are both incredible numbers. He is finishing on offense at a much higher rate, keeping in tune with the team’s improvement, as he is has an effective field goal percentage of 62.5 while sporting a true shooting percentage of 63.6. Simply put, he’s "the guy" for this squad.
3.) How's life in the AAC?
Eh. Playing teams like UConn, Temple, Memphis and, more recently, SMU makes for some fun matchups, but the conference as a whole is nowhere near the level of competition the Bearcats used to get in the old Big East. That is especially true this year, which I think will be a down year for the league as a whole. That’s probably while there have been more than a few rumors circulating about Cincinnati being a possible addition to the Big 12. However, it would be beyond odd to see the Bearcats clashing with team like Baylor and Oklahoma on a yearly basis.
4.) Where do you see this Bearcats team ending up? 6 seed and second round?
If the offensive improvements are here to stay, then this is a Sweet 16 team easily. The defensive intensity we all know and love is still there. The Bearcats are ranked eighth nationally in points allowed (58.4 PPG) and steals (87) and a top 15 team in blocks (56) and opponent field goal percentage (36.1). December is a big month to prove just how good they are. They already hung tight with Butler and have a chance to make a statement on Saturday as well as later in the month against Iowa State.
5.) What are your feelings towards the always beautiful Skyline Chili?
I like chili, love cheddar cheese and am a fan of spaghetti. Do I understand why those three things should be combined? No. But who am I to question the fusing of delicious food items.
6.) Who's going to win, and why?
It hurts to say it, but Xavier has had the edge in this rivalry of late, winning three of the last four meetings and six of the last eight, but the Musketeers have only won three-straight against the Bearcats twice before. Last year’s game was excellent and really could have gone either way. I envision another tight one, since these teams match up fairly well, with Cincinnati prevailing.
So there you have it folks. The only thing I'll agree with him on is Skyline. Zip 'Em Up.