The 6-0 Cincinnati Bearcats return to action after a highly successful trip to Las Vegas to face their toughest test of the season in the also 6-0 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
It is a very interesting match up as both teams use nearly identical styles of play on offense with three skilled guards on the perimeter joined by a versatile face up forward playing out around one big man in the middle. Given the history of both coaches it shouldn't be a surprise the two teams mirror eachother on the offensive end.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant spent 12 years as an assistant to Florida head coach Billy Donovan before taking his first head coaching gig at Virginia Commonwealth for three seasons before taking the Alabama job in 2009. Donovan is probably the most famous branch on the Rick Pitino coaching tree as he played for the Hall of Fame coach at Providence before starting his coaching career at Kentucky as his old coaches assistant. Cronin is also a member of the Pitino tree after spending two season as his top assistant at Louisville.
The key for both teams is strong guard play with Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick leading the way for Cincinnati while Trevor Lacey, Trevor Releford and Rodney Cooper provide the firepower for the Crimson Tide.
You couldn't possible get any closer when comparing scoring averages between the two groups as Kilpatrick (21.0), Wright (16.5) and Parker (10.5) combine for 48 per game while Releford (18.6), Cooper (15.8) and Lacey (13.5) total 47.9 a contest.
While the season is still young, maybe the most surprising stat is that of the 6 talented guards only Cooper is struggling with his perimeter shot at 26.7% while the other five are all over are connecting at a clip of 42% or better from long distance. The leader statistically of the bunch is Releford, who is shooting a blistering 55% through six games. Clearly guarding the three point line is going to be a huge factor in deciding a winner in this one.
The wild card for each team could very well be a pair of newcomers in JUCO transfer Titus Rubles for Cincinnati and freshman Devonta Pollard for Alabama. Rubles is producing 8.3 points a night for the Bearcats and has proven to be a big shot maker in clutch situations as evidenced by his 11 point outburst against Oregon to win the Global Sports Classic title in Vegas last Saturday. Pollard hasn't yet tapped into his immense potential, scoring 4.7 per, but the 6-foot-8 five star recruit is starting to get more comfortable in his role and can be a serious match up problem with his size and versatility as he showed in a 9 point, 7 rebound performance against Charleston Southern last weekend.
Neither team is particularly strong on the interior with Cincinnati relying on the duo of Cheikh Mbodj and David Nyarsuk to man the middle while Alabama employs a trio of big bodies in Carl Engstrom, Nic Jacobs and Moussa Gueye. The Bearcats pair has been slightly more effective on the glass with a 9.6 to 9.2 edge while also holding the scoring edge at 10.2 per against 8.2. It is also advantage Cincinnati on blocked shots at 25-18. That said both Mbodj and Nyarsuk are going to have to do a better job avoiding foul trouble than they did in Vegas as both saw their minutes limited with long stretches on the bench.
Both squads tend to rely on pressure man to man defense in the half court, but Alabama has shown a little zone from time to time to mix things up. Taking care of the ball will be critical for both team on the offensive end, and to date Alabama has been less prone to turning it over only giving it away 73 times to 89 for Cincinnati.
While nearly every number between these two teams is close to identical, the biggest gap statistically is on the glass with Cincinnati pulling down 53 boards a night to only 33 for the Tide. If there is one area the Bearcats have struggled over the last 3 games it is keeping opponents away from the offensive glass, but they should have less resistance there against a Bama team that is only getting 10 offensive boards a night.
With as similar as these two teams are across the board look for a tight contest decided in the final 4 minutes of the game. If the Bearcats show the same end of game mentality they displayed in Vegas, the should be a good sign for closing this one out late.