#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Kansas State
7:27 PM ET, truTV
Cincinnati Bearcats 29-5 (16-2)
Player to Watch: F Gary Clark
The six foot, eight inch Clark has been a staple for the Bearcats his entire career. A former conference defensive player of the year (15-16), Clark is a shot blocking expert who can also defend on the perimeter. He may be only the third top scorer on the team (10.7 PPG), but he’s also the teams top man on the glass and averages 7.8 a game. When other options, such as Troy Caupain or Kyle Washington are struggling on the offensive end, Clark has shown the ability to carry the load; he had 25 points in the AAC semifinal against UConn, and went 15-16 from the line in that same contest. When combined with his status as one of the top defenders in the country, his consistent offensive production and rebounding tenacity makes Clark the key cog for Mick Cronin’s team.
X-Factor: Having more Depth
Kansas State only plays about seven players. With the aggressive style Cincy plays, they often grind teams into the ground with their physicality. Beating them without having a spectacular day requires being able to withstand their tenacity, something most teams can’t do. Cincy, on the other hand, plays as many as nine guys, meaning as long as foul trouble is not an issue, they can wear down opponents while remaining fresh. Their style of play is designed to tire other teams out; they play at a slow tempo, a result of their defensive efficiency, but also force teams to defend for the entire shot clock when they have the ball. Kansas State also has to now fly across the country (from Dayton to Sacramento) and play this physical team in just three days. Cincy’s advantage in depth over the Wildcats could mean they can grind K-State down slowly, and get a typical, physical, win.
Kansas State Wildcats 21-13 (8-10)
Player to Watch: F Wesley Iwundu
Iwundu finished the regular season averaging 12.5 points a game, but set a career high with 24 points in the win over Wake Forest. The wing is firing on all cylinders, hitting 11-13 from the line against the Deacons while adding 6 boards and 7 assists. A senior, Iwundu has been a four-year starter and is the leader of the Wildcats. He’s a matchup nightmare on offense, being able to take his man off the dribble and knock down shots from behind the line. He’s both the leading scorer and rebounder for Coach Bruce Weber. His matchup very likely will be Gary Clark, and the battle between the two forwards could go a long way in deciding if the Wildcats can build off their First Four victory.
X-Factor: Defensive Rebounding
Kansas State averages less rebounds than their opponents. The Bearcats, on the other hand, outrebound their opponents by roughly 5 a game. K-State gives up an average of 11 offensive boards a game. Against Cincy, that is a recipe for disaster. The Bearcats grab upwards of 12 offensive rebounds a contest, and have guards that are willing to crash the offensive glass. Kansas State is not going to have many chances to get in transition against the slowly-paced Bearcats; they have to finish possessions with a defensive rebound or they will get completely worn down by the more physical Bearcats on that side of the floor. The Wildcats will be grinded into dust if they allow the Bearcats to romp across the offensive glass.
Matchup to Watch
The most important matchup will be between Clark and Iwundu. However, outside of the two forwards, another critical matchup will be between big men D.J. Johnson and Kyle Washington. Johnson is a stellar big, and at six foot nine has the size to compete with Cincy’s top post presence in Washington. Johnson is also a competent post scorer, and Washington has struggled with foul trouble in the past. However, when he’s in, he’s arguably the top offensive weapon for Mick Cronin’s unit. He is a stellar shooter from deep, and can score from the paint. The battle between Washington and Johnson, not only in the scoring category but on the glass, could define this game.
This was already touched on, but rebounding will be the key to this game. Kansas State is a below average rebounding team, and they’re playing a squad that physically competes for every inch on the glass. The Wildcats will have to outshine their usual performance on the boards. When considering how difficult it will be for the Wildcats to put up points when they have the ball, securing defensive rebounds will be paramount.
If you’re looking for a 6-11 upset, this may not be the best one to pick. Cincy’s style matches up well with Kansas State, and generating momentum while staying rejuvenated will be a major challenge for K-State. Behind the hot hand of Iwundu, the Wildcats should keep the game from getting out of hand, but it’s unlikely they pull off the upset. Cincinnati 68, Kansas State 58.
Cincinnati Basketball: http://www.ucrallycats.com/mens-basketball/
Gary Clark: https://cincyontheprowl.com/2014/11/25/cincinnati-bearcats-v-nc-central-eagles-tipoff-time-media-info-game-notes/
Wesley Iwundu: http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Wesley+Iwundu/Barclays+Center+Classic/1ASu8dsm4yN
Kyle Washington: https://www.fanragsports.com/cbb/fresh-start-at-cincinnati-has-kyle-washington-thriving/