SPOKANE, Wash.—On Thursday afternoon (2:10 EST, TNT), the Harvard men’s basketball team will take on the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In Part I of a two-part preview, staff writer David Freed looks at Cincinnati’s tournament profile and whether its style of play increases the likelihood of a Harvard upset.
Quick Primer on Cincinnati:
Record: 27-6 (15-3 American Athletic Conference)
Best Wins: Pittsburgh, Memphis (twice), UConn, Louisville
Worst Losses: Xavier, SMU
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 25
Star Players: Sean Kilpatrick (Sr. Guard) 20.7 ppg, 2.6 apg; Justin Jackson (Sr. Center) 11.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg
Harvard and Cincinnati shared just one common opponent all year: the Connecticut Huskies. With Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders out with injury, Harvard was outscored by 10 points in the second half, and fell to the Huskies, 61-56, at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 8. The Bearcats beat the Huskies at home by five in their first meeting behind Kilpatrick’s 26 points and season-high 12 rebounds, but lost a rematch on the road, 51-45, and in the AAC tournament, 58-56.
However, the two teams attacked UConn in very different ways. In its lone win, the Bearcats dominated the Huskies inside behind 15 points from Jackson. The Crimson instead used its spacing to frustrate UConn’s defense, knocking down nine threes to compensate for the lack of a true slasher on the floor in Saunders’ absence. On defense, both units managed to keep Naismith Award finalist Shabazz Napier in check, and UConn did not clear 44 percent shooting in any of the four matchups.
Style of Play:
This year’s Cincinnati squad fits perfectly into the mold created by coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats are a tenacious defensive team (seventh nationally in defensive efficiency) that gets after opposing ball handlers, forcing turnovers on nearly 23 percent of opponent possessions. Jackson anchors the team inside, leading Cincinnati in both blocks and steals, while Kilpatrick leads a strong group of perimeter wings. Although no starter is taller than 6’8”, the Bearcats do an excellent job of using their length to run opponents off the three-point line and funnel would-be drivers to a waiting Jackson inside.
On offense, Kilpatrick and Jackson are the squad’s two leading scorers, although it might be more accurate to say that the senior guard is Cincinnati’s first, second, and third option. Kilpatrick, who has played nearly 200 more minutes and hoisted 207 more shots than any of his teammates, has scored more points in a Bearcat uniform than anybody but Oscar Robertson. The team goes as he goes, especially with Jackson being foul-prone.