The University of Connecticut Huskies get set to play their second consecutive major game of the season in Hartford, as they host the Cincinnati Bearcats this Thursday. UConn (14-5, 5-2 AAC) comes in to this game riding high after the big victory against Georgetown last Saturday. Now, they get set to face another former Big East team, as the desperate Bearcats make their way to New England for the first of two scheduled meetings between the teams. Cincy (15-6, 5-3 AAC) has underachieved this season, and is in serious danger of falling completely off of the NCAA tournament radar. A win in Hartford would pay dividends for Mick Cronin’s side.
The Kevin Ollie-led Huskies showed off their impressive defense for much of the game against the Hoyas, holding them to 39 percent shooting. It was the sixth straight game, and eighth of their last nine, that the Huskies held their opponent to under 40 percent from the field. Given that shotblocking center Amida Brimah has been out of action for that entire stretch, the defensive ferocity exhibited by the Huskies has been a welcome sight. The UConn defense is now up to 15th in the country for points allowed, giving up 62.6 points per game. However, one spot above them is the Cincinnati Bearcats, allowing a paltry 62.4 points a game. This kind of defense has become the status quo for the ferocious Bearcats under Mick Cronin, and means that we could be in for a rockfight when these two teams line up for the tip.
Leading UConn scorer Shonn Miller (13.6 ppg) will be crucial on the block, where he will likely be matched up with Cincy’s talented sophomore, Gary Clark, who is averaging over ten points and eight rebounds a game. However, this individual matchup is not quite as important as the one that will be between Farad Cobb and Rodney Purvis. The slightly build Cobb will have his hand full guarding the six foot four Purvis, but will present the same defensive issues to the UConn guard thanks to his quickness and ability to hit the three ball (which he strokes at 45 percent).
The redshirt senior forward has been a part of Mick Cronin’s program since the days of the old Big East, and has seen the Huskies play more than anyone. The versatile forward posted ten points and seven rebounds when these teams last matched up in the AAC tournament a little under a year ago, which was also played in the XL Center. Thomas has got big game experience, as he posted ten points in nearly thirty minutes of action against last year’s Kentucky squad in Cincy’s NCAA tournament loss. As the primary defender of UConn’s Daniel Hamilton, the key cog in the Husky offense, his play on that end of the floor could decide the game.
Point Guard Attitudes
Starting at point guard for Cincy is long time Husky adversary Troy Caupain. UConn fans will most notably remember him for a technical foul he drew in last year’s regular season game between these teams in Cincinnati. Caupain is a gifted passer and an above average shooter, but does have an attitude on him. Similarly, UConn’s Sterling Gibbs notoriously hit a player while on Seton Hall a year ago, and has already been whistled for a technical foul this season. While he has genuinely done a great job of leading by example and showing mental growth, the individual battle with Caupain will be a big test for Gibbs, and require that he keeps his cool and helps his team.
These games are always reminiscent of trench warfare. Look at the final scores of the last few meetings: 57-54, 70-58, 62-56, 58-56, 51-45, 63-58. UConn holds a 4-2 advantage over those games, but each one was a low scoring affair that resembled wrestling as much as basketball. Don’t expect this game to be any different. While Cincy has a better scoring defense than UConn, that advantage is only by one spot. UConn’s field goal defense, on the strength of the streak recently highlighted, is up to number six in the nation at 37.3 percent a game. This season, even without Amida Brimah on the court, UConn’s tenacious defense may be even better than Cincy’s. Combine that with a loud home crowd, and this battle is set up to produce an ugly-looking UConn victory.
Connecticut 60, Cincinnati 53.
University of Connecticut