Although Cincinnati is known as a stifling defensive team, it’s the team’s offense that will be the key in Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against UCLA.
“Our defense is just as bad as everybody else’s if we’re on the run,” Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said. “We’re on the run defensively and our scouting report is out the window.”
Cronin said it’s imperative that the Bearcats are efficient on offense. They must get offensive rebounds, make shots or gets fouled. Absolutely no live-ball turnovers, guard Troy Caupain said. Once opponents misstep on offense, then UCLA gets out in transition and delivers lethal blows as a dizzying rate.
“If you’re constantly playing transition defense, you’re not going to be very good,” Cronin said. “And if you’re plying transition defense against this UCLA team, you’re going to lose.”
The Bearcats lead the American Athletic Conference in scoring (74.5 point per game) and scoring margin (plus-14.3), but grind out about 10 fewer possessions per game than UCLA. Cincinnati has about 65.15 possessions per game compared to UCLA’s 74.28, using Ken Pomeroy’s formula to identify possessions per game. In a comprehensive 75-61 first-round win over Kansas State on Friday, Cincinnati shot a blazing 62.8 percent from the field.
A pair of forwards leads the Bearcats in scoring with Jacob Evans III (13.5 points per game) and Kyle Washington (13.1 points per game). Washington, a transfer from NC State, is second on the team in rebounding with 6.8 per game, following forward Gary Clark (7.9).
While UCLA excels on offense and is prone to defensive lapses, the Bearcats are exceptionally balanced. Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy, who ranks them 11th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bearcats are fifth in scoring defense, allowing only 60.8 points per game.
“Coach doesn’t care about offense,” Caupain said.
With an experienced starting lineup, Cincinnati is making its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. They have two senior guards and two junior forwards in their starting lineup. The Bearcats earned an at-large bid out of the American Athletic Conference after finishing second in the conference to SMU.
NCAA Tournament, South Regional second round
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 6 Cincinnati
When: Approx. 6:40 p.m. PT
Where: Sacramento, Golden 1 Center
TV/radio: TBS/AM 570