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Hardcourt Happenings

   by Matt Fargo - 12/12/2006

Throughout the college basketball season, Matt Fargo will be taking a look at teams that should pique your betting appetite, whether they are good or bad. We all know about Florida, North Carolina and UCLA but with 336 teams in division I college hoops, there are plenty of teams flying under the radar. Today’s session:

Cincinnati Bearcats

It was only five short years ago that Cincinnati won 31 games and was a perennial national powerhouse. The Bearcats had a decent season in their first go around in the Big East last year, going 8-8 in the conference and 21-13 overall and made a run in the NIT before falling against eventual champion South Carolina. They endured quite a bit with the loss of head coach Bob Huggins but this season could be the toughest in quite some time in Cincinnati.

New head coach Mick Cronin has shown he is a winner as he turned around the Murray St. team and he returns to the Cincinnati program where he used to be a player and assistant coach. He comes in with very little to work with and it is already showing to be a difficult challenge. The Bearcats are 6-2 to start the season but there are a lot of issues surrounding this team despite the seemingly good start. Cincinnati has played the 11th easiest schedule in the nation but that is going to change.

The Bearcats have played five teams that are ranked 228th or worse and have actually lost one of those, a one-point setback against Wofford. Cincinnati did gain some confidence this past weekend with a neutral court win over Temple but it took an 18-0 run to secure than win thanks to the Owls going ice cold. The Bearcats have yet to play a true road game and actually won’t do that until January 4th. In the meantime they have games against Xavier, Ohio St., NC State and Ohio before that first road game at Memphis.

The Bearcats lost 54 points, 23.7 rebounds and 11.5 assists to graduation and with nine new players on the roster, there are going to be growing pains. Cronin’s style is to run and apply as much pressure as possible but he is not going to be able to accomplish that with this team. He prefers going nine or ten players deep but so far, he has only seven players averaging double digits in minutes and it’s basically a six-man rotation as the seventh is getting just over 10 minutes of action.

A halfcourt offense will not solve anything as the Bearcats are shooting just 44.2 percent from the floor including 34.8 percent from behind the arc despite playing one of the easiest schedules in the country. JUCO transfer John Williamson is the leading scorer with 15.8 ppg while shooting a solid 60 percent from the floor. After that, it’s a mess. No other player is shooting above 44 percent while the backcourt is combining for a putrid 34.9 percent accuracy from the field.

The Bearcats are shooting just 65.9 percent from the charity stripe after shooting 74.7 percent last season. The problem lies with Williamson as he gets to the line more than any other player but is hitting only 48.9 percent. It will soon become apparent for the opposition to make him go to the stripe as a way of slowing him down. Cincinnati has gone to the line only three more times than the opposition has after tallying close to 100 more attempts last season. It needs to be more aggressive.

Freshman Deonta Vaughn is having a good year at the point, averaging 15.6 ppg and 4.9 apg while he has kept his turnovers down, averaging 2.8 per game. However, the rest of the team is not being nearly as efficient as they have put up a 0.85 assist/turnover ratio after taking Vaughn’s stats out of the mix. The good news is that the Bearcats have allowed a ratio of 0.54 but as the schedule gets tougher, that is going to climb. Four of their next six games are against teams with ratios of 1.17 or better.

With a 6-2 record, we might see the Bearcats getting more value than they should be. They host rival Xavier on Wednesday, easily its biggest test so far this season followed by a game against Ohio St. in Indianapolis on Saturday. Cincinnati does not match up very well at all with either of those two teams so it could be a play against in both situations depending on the lines. We could see a quick fall by the Bearcats and one that they won’t be able to recover from when the Big East season begins.

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