The University of Cincinnati Bearcats seem like a paradox. They are an undersized team that starts four guards, and yet still does damage on the offensive glass. They slow down the tempo offensively, but play pressure defense and look for steals. Their best known player is a big guy, and yet much of their offense comes from three point shots.
What do the statistics tell us about Cincinnati? Ken Pomeroy rates them better on defense (#27) than on offense (#51). On defense, they pressure the ball, but they also give up more than their share of offensive rebounds. On offense, they take a lot of threes, don't turn the ball over, and get offensive rebounds. Their scoring is very balanced, as their top 5 players average between 9 and 14 points per game.
There are three things that Texas will need to do against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
1. Run three point shooters off the line, and force them to make shots off the dribble. Cincinnati plays four guards who like to launch it from three, none of whom are particularly adept at going to the basket. Of the four main guards, only Dion Dixon averages 30% or more of his field goal attempts at the rim, with many of his made shots at the rim coming on assists.
2. Take care of the basketball. Cincinnati forces a lot of turnovers.
3. Have at least a respectable game on the defensive glass. Center Yancy Gates is most dangerous when he can get to the offensive boards. The Texas big men will have to keep a body on him. Texas' best rebounder, Jaylen Bond, could really help by having a big game.
After the jump, I will take a closer look at the key players for Cincinnati, using data taken from my play-by-play database.
The Bearcats primary playmaker is junior guard Cashmere Wright. He assists on just under 30% of Cincinnati's made field goal attempts when he is on the court. It should be noted that all four of the main Cincinnati guards register non-trivial assist totals; this isn't an offense where one guy pounds the ball for thirty seconds.
Wright is also a good three point shooter, making 37% of his three point attempts. Roughly half of his field goal attempts this season have been from three point range. One thing that is clear when studying Wright's play by play statistics is that his strength is not in creating shots for himself. Less than 20% of his field goal attempts come at the rim. 33% of his attempts come on two point jump shots, and he only hits 30% of these shots. His made two point shots are rarely assisted, suggesting that they usually come after he puts the ball on the floor. Despite the fact that Wright handles the ball a lot, just a hair under 80% of his three point field goals have been assisted. This suggests that when he scores efficiently for himself, it is in catch-and-shoot situations. Once he puts the ball on the deck, he does far better when he makes a play for someone else.
When you play against a player like Wright, you are best off forcing him to put the ball on the floor. Texas obviously doesn't want him taking three point shots. Once Wright puts the ball on the floor, it is probably best not to over-help, as that plays right into Cincinnati's hands. Ideally, Texas wants to force Wright to beat them making shots off the dribble.
Wright is also a very good defensive player who has a knack for taking the ball away from opponents. He steals the ball in 4.1% of the possessions while he is on the court. This is a very high steal rate -- almost in Aaron Craft territory.
Guard Sean Kilpatrick is Cincinnati's most efficient scorer. 57% of his field goal attempts come from three point range. He has made 37% of his three point shots. Assist data suggests that he is a classic catch-and-shoot player, with 88% of his made three point shots coming off assists. Kilpatrick is similar to Wright in that he doesn't score nearly as efficiently when he puts the ball on the floor.
The third mad bomber for Cincinnati is Dion Dixon. Dixon takes over 40% of his attempts from three point range. He has been less successful shooting them than his colleagues, making only 27% of his three point shots. Dixon is more likely than Wright and Kilpatrick to do stuff at the rim. About 30% of his field goal attempts come at the rim, and he also gets 0.38 free throw attempts for every field goal attempt. (Wright and Kilpatrick don't get to the free throw line very much.) Half of Dixon's made field goals at the rim are assisted.
Jaquon Parker is Cincinnati's fourth guard. Parker can also shoot the three (he hits 40%), although he takes them less frequently, with only 30% of his shots coming from three point range. Parker is the most likely to settle for two point jump shots of any of the Cincinnati guards. Parker takes two point jump shots on 45% of his field goal attempts, and he only makes 32% of these shots.
The big guy in the middle is Yancy Gates. Gates is a physical player who gets to 11% of the available offensive rebounds when he is on the floor. This has a lot of Texas fans understandably worried, as an inability to get defensive rebounds has cost Texas several games this season.
Gates' play-by-play statistics are interesting. He takes 48% of his field goal attempts at the rim; this is actually a somewhat low total for a big man. For a player like Gates, I would expect something closer to 60% of his attempts would come at the rim. Gates is a good finisher at the rim, hitting 68% of his shots there. The bulk of his shots at the rim are either assisted or come off of offensive rebounds.
So where is Gates taking all of his other shots from? It turns out that over half of Gates' field goal attempts are two point jump shots. He only makes 28% of these shots, and less than one third of his made two point field goals come on assists. The Bearcats like to throw the ball into Gates in the post some of the time, and many of these post attempts are presumably what is showing up in the play-by-play data as two point jump shots. The lesson here is that Gates is not likely to really hurt Texas in the low post. He is not a player that you double team (particularly when we consider how much UC likes to shoot the three). If Gates hurts Texas, it will most likely be on the offensive glass. It is important to keep a body on him at all times.
The Bearcats don't use very much of their bench most of the time, but forward Justin Jackson is one reserve to keep in mind. He is active on the offensive glass (10% offensive rebounding percentage) and is Cincinnati's best shot blocker (he blocks about 8% of opponent two point attempts).