After a nine day hiatus the Cincinnati Bearcats (16-4 4-3) return to action Wednesday night against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-7 3-5) for the first mirror game in Big East play this season. Cincinnati defeated Rutgers 68-58 January 12th in New Jersey.
When these two teams last met the Scarlet Knights were sitting at 2-1 in conference play and looking to continue positive momentum after beating Pitt and St John's in the two games prior. Cincinnati was reeling a bit as losers of three of four with all of those loses coming at home.
Since then both teams have gone in opposite directions as Rutgers bounced back to beat South Florida before dropping the next three to Notre Dame, St John's and Connecticut. On the flip side Cincinnati has won two of three since the first meeting with the lone loss being a heart breaker at Syracuse in their last time out.
The key to slowing down the Rutgers attack on the offensive end is to keep them off the free throw line where as a team they lead the Big East at 73.5% on the season. They also come in 4th in FG% at 45.8 and fifth from three point range shooting 34%.
While it isn't likely the Bearcats hold star sophomore guard Eli Carter to 1-11 from the floor with no triples and only 6 points as they did in the first meeting, but it is clear the scouting report on Rutgers is to keep the high volume scorer in check as much as possible. Sean Kilpatrick drew the assignment the first time, and look for a heavy dose of that match up once again when Rutgers has the ball.
With Carter ice cold in the last meeting it was Myles Mack that led the way with 15 points on the strength of 3-4 shooting from long distance. Mack was shooting near 50% from three on the season before going cold over the last two games to the tune of 1-11 combined and had maybe his worst performance of the season on Sunday against UCONN with only 6 points and missing all five of his attempts from deep.
Jerome Seagears picked up for Mack against UCONN with a team high 21 points on an impressive 8-15 shooting performance, but it was the first time in double digits on the season for the former Cincinnati recruit. Seagears has really struggled from the floor shooting 34.4% from the floor, but he can be effective from deep at 34.9%
Forwards Dane Miller and Wally Judge were solid in the first meeting combining for 12 points and 11 rebounds, but in the guard oriented system it has been tough for both to produce big numbers if they aren't crashing the offensive glass. Judge recently revealed he is battling a lingering knee issue and doesn't expect to be 100% for the rest of the season.
One name to watch that could see his role increased after scoring 8 points on 3-4 shooting in the first meeting is 6-foot-8 250 pound big man Austin Johnson. The Cincinnati bigs have been prone to allowing guys with Johnson's size to be effective around the paint and an increased role would not be a surprise after their guards struggled with the Cincinnati pressure 18 days ago.
The Cincinnati game plan on the offensive end last time was to burn the shot clock and keep Rutgers from finding any flow as they had to defend for 35 seconds a trip. That task was even more difficult as the Bearcats pulled down 17 offensive rebounds and scored 19 second chance points.
With Cashmere Wright still on the mend from a right knee sprain it will be interesting to see the game plan head coach Mick Cronin draws up this time around. Wright was on fire at that point in the season and led the way with 23 to make the game plan effective. If he isn't able to get in the lane off the bounce in a similar fashion it changes what Cincinnati can do in late clock situations.
While keeping Rutgers off the line is a clear key on one end, the first meeting was won by the Bearcats because of their ability to get there and convert at a high level. The Bearcats finished 23-32 from the stripe while Rutgers was 13-17. While it isn't likely Cincinnati finishes with 15 more attempts this time around, they need to put the same type of pressure on the Rutgers defense and not settle for jumpers early and often.
With a 4 game losing streak on the line Rutgers is going to come into this one looking to get back on track as their post season hopes are starting to spiral. Cincinnati will have to match their early intensity after the week plus lay off and bring a similar result in terms of execution on the offensive end that produced a victory the first time around. If Wright is still getting back into form after the injury, that is going to be a tough task and could make this one closer than the result of the original meeting in Rutgers gym.