With road loses to (AP #7) Villanova and (AP #3) Syracuse behind them things don't get any easier for the Cincinnati Bearcats as they travel to Notre Dame to take on an Irish squad that comes in at 13-0 on their home floor this season.
Can't Stop the Run
The biggest concern for Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is figuring out how to get his team to prevent big scoring runs like the 18-3 and 16-0 bursts that allowed Syracuse to take control of the action at the start of each half on Saturday. While it is easy to point to the offense as the culprit Cronin was not upset with the shot selection nearly as much as he was the showing on the defensive end.
“Syracuse is a great team, obviously, but we started off both halves as cold as ice,” Cronin said. “As a coach what you've got to look at is the shots you're getting. Villanova game we did not get good shots, Syracuse game we got good shots. Conversely it goes then to defense. We've struggled defensively the last three games, we've given up 67 or 68 points a game. You're going to have points where you do not score, thing is you've got to play some defense.”
Senior guard Larry Davis has been a productive spark off the bench for the Cats this season, but he knows they need more than just a jump start here and there if they are going to continue on the path to making the NCAA Tournament.
“Those kinds of teams you can't come out sluggish against,” said Davis. “You have to be on everything, your defense and your offense. I just think we can come out a little bit more aggressive than we've been coming out on defense.”
As he gets his team ready for another tough road test at Notre Dame Cronin is just looking to improve on the staples of Bearcat basketball.
“My concern is our defense and our rebounding,” Cronin said. “Our inability to get loose balls at times is a concern. Those are things you can control.”
Irish Golden At Home
While it would appear the Irish are ripe for the picking right now after losing to Marquette by 22 and St John's by 18 in the past week, both of those games were on the road. There is no doubt they are going to be happy to get back into the friendly confines od the Joyce Center to try and stop their losing skid.
“Right now they have a dual personality, home and road,” Cronin said. “I told the staff to light a match to yesterday's Notre Dame DVD. We're talking about a team a week earlier that was beating St John's by 25 to 30 for most of the game. That's how much different they are at home.”
Davis has seen the bi polar nature of the Irish over his career as the Bearcats have knocked off the Irish on both trips to UC and won twice in South Bend over his career. He knows this road test will be just as tough as the previous two, but he feels the team is ready for the challenge.
“Everybody's a different team in their own gym,” said Davis. “They're a good team in their own gym, but we've got to just go play hard and get a win.”
The Irish have knocked off UConn, Georgetown and St John's at home so far this season, and the reason has been very clear. They are simply a much more effective and efficient team on the offensive end.
“They make shots at home,” Cronin said. “They average 73 points a game at home in their Big East games and 57 on the road. It would stand to reason they're making shots at a much higher clip in their home games.”
Starting 5 Not Settled
After seeing the team start slow over the last few weeks, Cronin once again hinted that there are changes likely coming to the starting five for the Notre Dame game.
“As a staff we've spent the weekend looking at line up changes, things we can do to make sure we start the game off a little bit better.”
One thing that will factor into the decision is how the Irish decide to attack the Bearcat pressure. If senior forward Carleton Scott is still sidelined with an injury, the most likely replacement is guard Eric Atkins who has started all 4 games that Scott has missed.
“You've always got to try and get better,” said Cronin. “Also you've got match ups at times. He could elect to start Atkins as an extra ball handler. They could also start Joey Brooks instead of Atkins. They've started small or they've started a bigger guy.”
Cronin wouldn't tip his hand at the changes being considered, but if the Irish go small don't be surprised to see Darnell Wilks get the start for either Ibrahima Thomas or Yancy Gates who is nursing an ankle sprain suffered in the Syracuse game.
Martin an X Factor
While Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough are the leading scorers and will draw the most defensive attention, keep an eye on Purdue transfer Scott Martin as someone that can give the Cats fits if he can get going. Martin is a highly skilled big man that can play inside and out with the ability to get hot from the perimeter even though he has struggled in conference play. If Scott is still out as is expected, they look to Martin to be that 3rd scoring option and Cronin knows he can be very tough to defend.
“He's a good player,” Cronin said. “He can play inside and out. He's struggled to hit some shots in the Big East; his numbers are way down from the 3 point line in the Big East. He's still a big concern because he's a match up problem. He's a face up 4 man that's very mobile. At times against Marquette they played him at the 5 which would be a big concern for us as well.”