NCAA Basketball

College Basketball Preview: Louisville vs. Cincinnati

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(16)Louisville Cardinals @ Cincinnati Bearcats
Fifth Third Arena – Cincinnati, OH
Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
Time: 7:03 pm EST

Louisville will make the 104 mile trek east to face the Bearcats of Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Mick Cronin’s bunch is coming off a home loss on Sunday to St. John’s, who despite not making a field goal for the final 8:58 of the game, held on to defeat the Bearcats 59-57 and send Cincinnati to its third loss in the past four games.

Both squads will be looking to notch their 20th win of the season, a Cincinnati victory allowing the Bearcats to surpass last season’s victory total and give them an increased win total for the fourth consecutive season. If Louisville emerges victorious it will be their ninth strait season with at least 20 wins, a feat that can currently be claimed by only nine Division I programs.

Cincinnati, despite the sheer volume, has no “quality” wins. They did defeat Xavier at home and St. John’s in the Garden, but other than those two there is nothing worth mention. I don’t know if we are close enough to selection Sunday yet to officially name bubble teams, but Cincinnati is and will be one of those teams. The outcome of this game will have a significant impact on how close to bursting the Bearcats bubble will be.

Yancy Gates, Cincinnati’s best inside scorer was suspended for the loss at Pittsburgh for getting into a confrontation with an assistant coach during practice, and came off the bench for 16 minutes of action during a 71-68 win at DePaul. He was the last player out of the locker room at halftime Sunday against St. John’s, and played just one minute of the second half before being benched again. I have no clue as to what is going on with Gates, but he has been a key player for Mick Cronin for three seasons now and if he continues to be absent on the court, it’s going to be extremely tough for the Bearcats to reach the NCAA Tournament come March.

Gates, until his recent troubles, led the Bearcats in minutes played and he is still the team’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder. He puts in 10.6 points a game, and pulls down 6.5 boards a scrap, in addition to being the team’s leading shot-blocker with 1.2 rejections a contest.

Cincinnati’s leading scorer, just barely outscoring Gates with 11.2 points a game is junior guard Dion Dixon. Dixon, a Chicago, Illinois product has got good handles, can shoot it from deep, and has freakish hops. After an extremely disappointing sophomore season, he appears to have turned the corner and is enjoying his career best in shooting percentage from both the field (40.0) and downtown (33.7), as well as grabbing 3.1 rebounds a game, dishing out 1.8 assists and coming up with 1.0 steal a game.

Dixon’s back-court mate, sophomore Cashmere Wright leads Cincinnati in assists (3.7) and is their biggest threat from deep, shooting 40.9 percent from behind the three-point line. Wright is a natural scorer who can easily create his own shot, and hit it from anywhere on the floor. He is also quick enough to beat any defender off the dribble and get to the rim.

Sean Kilpatrick (10.1ppg) and Larry Davis (5.7ppg) will spell Dixon and Wright at the guard positions.

Underneath, even sans Gates, the Bearcats are still a load. Senior forward Rashad Bishop’s numbers may be down a little overall (7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists a game while shooting just 37.4 percent) but don’t foul the 6′ 6″ senior unless you want to practically give Cincy two points. Bishop, a career 66.1 percent free throw shooter (57 and 51 percent in his junior and sophomore seasons, respectively), is hitting 88.4 percent (38-of-43) of his foul shots this year!!

The Bearcats second leading rebounder is 6′ 11″ senior Ibrahima Thomas. The Oklahoma State transfer is pulling down an even 6.0 boards a contest. Thomas is joined in the front-court by fellow senior, 6′ 7″ Darnell Wilks, who is getting a career high 15.0 minutes a game this year and averaging 3.6 points, 2.7 boards and 1.2 assists a game.

As a team, Cincinnati leads the BIG EAST and ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 57.9 points per game. The Bearcats take care of the ball, ranking 10th nationally in turnover margin (+4.4) and 13th in the nation in turnovers per game (11.0). A large part of these numbers could be attributed to the weak schedule, but regardless of teams played, these are some impressive statistics.

Impressive or not, Louisville is simply a better basketball team. The Cards get their ninth strait 20-win season and take another step forward in their quest for a top four finish in the BIG EAST standings and a double-bye in the BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP.

Louisville 68, Cincinnati 57