#2 Cincinnati Wildcats vs #15 Georgia State
3/16, 2 PM EDT, TBS
Georgia State Panthers: 24-10, 12-6 in Sun Belt Conference
Player to Watch: D’Marcus Simonds
Simonds, a 6’3” guard, averages 21.8 points in conference as the player of the year in the Sun Belt. Simonds was recruited by multiple more prolific programs, but chose Georgia State as the highest ranked recruit in the history of the program. Coach Ron Hunter has compared his game to George Hill. Expect a big game out of this potential NBA prospect.
X-Factor: 3 point shooting
Georgia State loves to bomb it from the 3 point arc. They shoot around 39% as a team from deep. Against the stifling Cincinnati defense, they’ll need these bombs to fall at a high clip.
Cincinnati Bearcats: 30-4, 16-2 in American Athletic Conference
Player to Watch: Jacob Evans
Evans can be an offensive force for Cinci. He averages 14 a game and shoots almost 40% from the field. However, he’s a bit inconsistent. Earlier in the year, he dropped 23 on Xavier in a loss on red-hot 9-15 shooting. He followed this by shooting 4-10 against Florida the next game. He’s been brutal in the month of February, averaging 29% from the field in 8 games. The only outlier was a 5-11 performance against Tulsa. His troubles continued into March with slight improvement, but the Bearcats need him at his best if they want to make a run.
X-Factor: Gary Clark’s rebounding
Clark, the AAC player of the year, averagesc 8.2 rebounds a game. He makes his presence most felt on the offensive glass, averaging 3 a game. His constant attack on the backboards makes up for a lot of Bearcat offensive woes. Georgia State will need to get a body on him every time a shot goes up, or Clark will feast inside.
Key Matchup: Evans vs Simonds
I feel like this one will come down to guard play, and I expect Evans to be guarding Simonds the majority of the time. He’s probably their best perimeter defender, and Simonds is a gifted offensive player. Evans needs to bring pressure defensively while staying serviceable on offense.
Key Stat: Bearcat defense
There’s really no need to go in depth about this because every college basketball fan has heard about the Bearcats’ stifling defense. They’re ranked 2nd in the nation in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. For a team that can be wildly inconsistent on offense, this could be their saving grace.
Prediction: Georgia State 65, Cincinnati 63
Let me just preface this by saying there should be absolutely no weight placed on this pick. Don’t come complaining to me if you pick Georgia State and they get blown out. But it’s March, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. I called Ron Hunter’s squad over Baylor a few years back, and I’m doing it again. I expect the Bearcats to play their usual stifling defense, but I’m predicting Georgia State to come out on top thanks to a cold day from the Bearcat offense. Simonds is dropping at least 30. Book it. (Don’t actual pick this, please).
By Kevin Herbst: first-time writer, long-time shot blocker
Photo: The Tennessean