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Pregame Pleasantries: Down the Drive breaks down the Bearcats

Before the battle, a pleasant exchange of information.

Alabama State v Cincinnati Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We got in touch with Phil over at Down the Drive to see if he was interested in working together the day before the Shootout. As befitting an honorable foe, he was and he gave us the low down on a few questions we had about the Bearcats.

Banners: A lot has been made of how easy a schedule UC has played so far. It takes a turn for the much more difficult now. Do you like the way it worked out, or would you prefer more challenges early on?

Down the Drive: You are correct. Cincinnati has played a very easy schedule so far. They rank 344th in the country in KenPom’s strength of schedule metric, so I’m not going to try to argue against that assertion. It’s also very true that December is the beginning of a crazy tough stretch for the Bearcats. Their next four games are at Xavier (obviously), vs. Florida, vs. Mississippi State and at UCLA. That’s pretty brutal. But I think Saturday’s game is the toughest one. The Bearcats haven’t won in the Cintas Center since 2001 and this game is already difficult as it is.

To answer your question, I’m glad the beginning of the schedule was a bit easier. With Troy Caupain gone, the team had a few things to work out, especially with getting up to speed with Cane Broome and freshmen like Trevor Moore and Keith Williams. Mick Cronin has tinkered with the starting lineup and rotation and I think that the early schedule has given him the chance to figure out what he wants to do as the season ramps up.

Banners: Jacob Evans has been amazing this year. He’s been a solid player in the past, what led to this big jump, specifically in his assist and block rates?

Down the Drive: Evans has been unfairly pigeonholed as a scorer and scorer only. While he is clearly excellent at that, he’s been able to improve in other areas in his three years at UC. That’s been big this season with the amount of scoring depth on the roster. I think the jump has really just come from his growing comfort with his game as well as the needs of this team. Without Caupain, other guys have to step up as passers and Evans has done that. He’s also always been a sneaky good shot blocker. I think he’s just being more aggressive on defense this year.

Banners: Cincinnati wins this game if _______ has a good game. Cincinnati loses this game if _______ doesn’t have a good game.

Down the Drive: Gary Clark. I’m not really sure Xavier has an answer for Clark, who has been more aggressive on offense this season. If he gets going, that will open up spots for shooters and give Kyle Washington easy buckets. If all that is working, good luck beating these guys.

Jacob Evans. Even if Clark plays well, Evans has to be at the top of his game since he’s the neutralizer for Trevon Bluiett. Last year, when Bluiett had 40 points, Evans at least countered him to a degree with 21 points. I’d like to see Evans be the one who gets the better of the matchup this time around.

Banners: UC is playing a ton of guys off the bench. Outside of Broome, who is the most important?

Down the Drive: It’s tough to say because the starting lineup has shifted so much. If we assume Broome is coming off the bench, then I’d say either Tre Scott or Nysier Brooks. Although freshman Trevor Moore and Keith Williams have played more minutes and shown some serious offensive polish already, I expect Scott and Brooks to play more in this one UC has really controlled the boards this season and both Scott and Brooks can help them do it again. If Broome starts, then its Justin Jenifer, who is the team’s best distributor and has really taken a step forward early on.

Banners: Which Xavier player worries you the most?

Down the Drive: Bluiett. A defensively dominant team doesn’t give up 40 points to a player and forget about it.

Banners: Is this noon start on college football conference championship Saturday the worst idea since off campus games?

Down the Drive: As far as I’m concerned, the Crosstown Shootout is the main event and the football championships are the undercard. However, I know that’s not the national feeling, so it does suck that this game is being overshadowed. It really shouldn’t be. It’s a rivalry that deserves to be put in front of national audiences more often.

[ed note. Rarely are UC and Xavier fans in complete agreement, but Paul and I are here. The Shootout deserves far more attention than a collection of football games, about two of which might end up mattering.]