Last week, I ranked eight possible Crimson first-round opponents in five categories—three-point shooting frequency, three-point shooting frequency allowed, defensive rebounding percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and opponent turnover percentage—to judge Harvard’s chances of an upset. Here is where Cincinnati fits in, with its national rank (out of 351) in parentheses:
OREB%: 38.1% (8)
DREB%: 70.8% (165)
Op. TO%: 21.8 (12)
3P Freq.: 31.2% (213)
Op. 3P Freq.: 32.4% (159)
By these metrics, Cincinnati grades out as a very good first-round “Giant.” The Bearcats rebound a large percentage of their own misses, force a lot of turnovers, and run opponents off of the three-point line. Its excellence in the first two categories gives it many extra possessions, helping to make up for its significantly below average offense—and, since extra possessions mean extra chances for superior talent to shine, reducing the chance of being upset. Forcing opponents off the three-point line, a big underdog equalizer, makes the Bearcats an even safer favorite.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, it could not have asked for a much worse first-round matchup in that respect. On the defensive end, Harvard grabs 74.8 percent of all available rebounds, good for 20th nationally. On offense, Harvard’s 39.0 percent three-point shooting is 39th best in the country, and it turns the ball over on just 15 percent of its plays.
Since the strengths of the squads will go head to head, whichever team can exert its will will have the upper hand. The Bearcats like to use opponent’s turnovers to jumpstart fast breaks, while the Crimson plays more deliberately on offense, often running sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers off multiple pick-and-rolls to find the best shot available.
Another crucial factor could be Harvard’s willingness to take threes against a Bearcat defense designed to take them away. The Crimson shoots threes on a way-below-average 28 percent of possessions, but upped that number to 43 percent against New Mexico in last year’s NCAA Tournament. For Amaker’s squad to pull off the upset once more, it will need to effectively use the triple against a feisty Cincinnati unit.
All Data Courtesy of Teamrankings.com
—Crimson staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.