In the first round of the East Regional, the No. 11 seed Texas Longhorns have been slotted opposite the No. 6 seed Cincinnati Bearcats, setting up a power conference battle between two teams with fairly similar profiles. I'll offer a much more detailed look at the Bearcats in the days ahead, but let's jump right in to a quick-take first look at the Longhorns' opening round opponent.
The Bearcats finished the season 24-10 overall and 12-6 in the Big East (4th place); following an uninspiring non-conference slate the Bearcats put together a strong season in conference play featuring wins over Notre Dame, Georgetown, Marquette (twice), and Louisville, capped by an impressive run to the Big East Tournament finals via wins over Georgetown and Syracuse.
Although 6-9, 260-pound Yancy Gates is a load on the inside, Cincinnati isn't an especially long team inside, which is nice for a Texas team that will be counting on a pair of 6-7 frontcourt players in Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes. That said, Wangmene would have been a particularly valuable player to have for this match up, and Texas will miss his body strength that helped him play effectively against Kansas' Thomas Robinson. On the plus side, Wangmene did not excel as a rebounder, and with Cincinnati mirroring Texas as a team whose offensive efficiency is in part a reflection of excellent work on the offensive glass, Bond's superior rebounding ability is particularly valuable for this match up.
The Bearcats' trio of starting guards haven't received as much attention, but in many ways are the strength of their team. They're an experienced and exceptionally athletic bunch that defends very well and takes care of the ball, with two legit three point threats in Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Cincy's guards are a big reason the Bearcats defense finished in the Top 10 nationally in terms of turnover percentage, and topping my list of concerns is our guards getting smothered and struggling with turnovers and poor offensive possessions.
Like Texas, the Bearcats are not a particularly deep team, although unlike the Longhorns five of the six players upon whom they most heavily rely are upperclassmen, with the sixth being a sophomore (Kilpatrick), which helpfully allows head coach Mick Cronin to use sparingly his five freshmen contributors, all of whom have struggled more often than not.
All things considered, Cincinnati is neither a great nor discouraging match up for this Texas team.
Highlighting the list of concerns, the Bearcats are an excellent offensive rebounding team, an area in which this Texas team has improved but remains vulnerable, and Cincinnati's guards play outstanding defense on the perimeter, which is a huge worry in terms of the effect on the Longhorns' key freshmen, Myck Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan. On the encouraging side, the Bearcats' frontcourt isn't especially long and the team as a whole doesn't do a good job of getting to the line.
All in all, although I'm very concerned about our freshmen against Cincinnati's athleticism and smothering perimeter defense, as someone who was more worried about an opponent that can rip up the nets offensively, I'll take this draw with hopes that we see more of the matured play from Kabongo and McClellan that showed up in Kansas City this weekend, and comforted that if all else fails we can just turn the entire thing over to J'Covan Brown.
Most of all, I'm just excited as hell that this team made it to the NCAA Tournament. Because you can't win if you don't play....