Following a heartbreaking 59-57 home loss against St John's the Cincinnati Bearcats must put the defeat behind them quickly with #16 Louisville visiting 5/3 Arena Wednesday night.
With only 6 regular season Big East games remaining on the schedule time is running out on getting the victories needed for the Bearcats to earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament. In order to get there the team will have to do a better job protecting their home court with Louisville, UConn and Georgetown still left to visit Cincinnati.
If they are going to get the victories necessary it will be on the back of their strong defense and the ability to grind out victories down the stretch. Senior guard Larry Davis feels the attention to detail has been lacking of late, and fully realizes the need to get back on track.
“We need to pay more attention to the game plan and really look at the details of what they're doing,” Davis said. “I know I let up Hardy back door me twice and that wasn't supposed to happen. We just have to pay more attention to the details and fix it.”
Head coach Mick Cronin certainly knows what to expect from UL after serving as an assistant under Rick Pitino. What he sees is a team similar to his own in that there are no real big name stars on either roster, and both rely on solid defense and riding the hot hand.
“From a talent standpoint neither one of us have a guy that's going to be voted 1st team All Big East,” said Cronin. “Both try to play extremely hard on the defensive end and try to create as much havoc as we can defensively. Both teams are at their best when they are getting after it defensively.”
If there is one key to knocking off the Cardinals it is slowing down their transition game. It's not your normal fast break style where the ball is pushed directly to the rim for points, but instead the focus is getting to the free throw line and then looking to dish inside out.
“Their conversion on the break and their ability to make threes on the break is as good as there is in the country because they have two great shooters running the wings at all times,” Cronin said. “They never run the wings with guys that can't shoot.”
That style is tough for opponents to defend because it goes against the general principals used in defending transition offense. While stopping the ball is still first and foremost a priority, the secondary wave has got to locate and contest shooters looking to spot up.
“It's unconventional because you teach guys to run to the paint and get solid defensively,” said Cronin. “With them you can't run to the paint because you have to have one guy run to one wing and another guy run to the other wing. It's imperative your big guys run the floor defensively because your wings can't clog the paint.”
While UL looks for scoring up and down the roster their unquestioned floor leader is senior guard Preston Knowles. He leads the team in scoring at 15.1 a game and relies on a perimeter jumper that he knocks down at a 40% clip. Not only is he a big time shooter, he is also known to knock them down at the most important times for his team and Cronin knows you have to keep him bottled up to the final buzzer.
“Their leader doesn't care about anything but winning,” Cronin said. “He doesn't let guys run to the locker room to get the box score, so obviously he's giving them great leadership. Aside from the fact he can make shots. He makes some tough shots when he gets rolling. Their Marquette film's unbelievable, the shots he made in their comeback.”
Davis sees the clock winding down on his UC career, and beating a rival is magnified by the NCAA Tournament resume hanging in the balance. Win and things look bright after the gloomy result on Sunday. Lose and one more chance to pick up a marquee win is left on the side of the road.
“I've been watching them and everything,” said Davis. “It's another big game that we've got to come out and play. We've got to focus in on what they do and then just finish it.”