(1) VITAL SCHEMATICS: Mick Cronin's crew comes into tomorrow's contest boasting an impressive 15-3 record that features wins over Pittsburgh (at the Zoo), Iowa State, Oregon, and Alabama. The Bearcats are 3-2 in conference thus far, but they've traveled a non-traditional route to get there: UC is 0-2 at home, dropping close games to St. John's and Notre Dame, but 3-0 on the road, with wins at Pitt, at Rutgers, and at DePaul. Add that all up, and you get a lofty KenPom ranking (16) and a strong RPI (30).
(2) PRIMARY WEAPON: CASH MONEY BEAM (damage rating 7.0 out of 10): Cincinnati leans heavily on two studs on offense: guards Sean Kilpatrick (17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per, in 32 minutes a game) and Cashmere Wright (15.1 points and 3.7 assists in 28 minutes per game). Both can fill it up from deep (41 bombs for Kilpatrick, 46 for Wright), don't turn the ball over very much, and shoot free throws pretty well. Senior JaQuon Parker is no slouch himself, averaging 11.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, but he doesn't shoot as well from the line (55%) or as often from three-point range (even though he's making 40% of his attempts).
All of those numbers, though, were accumulated before Wright departed early against DePaul with what looked to be a bad knee injury. Fortunately, reports indicate that injury is of the "looked worse than it was" variety, and Cash might play against Marquette, though he'd be limited if he does.
(3) DEFENSIVE MATRIX: CHEIKH'S BLOCK PARTY (armor rating: 9.5 out of 10): The Bearcats butter their bread with their ferocious defense, which limits opponents to 0.85 points per possession (ranked eighth nationally by KenPom), thanks in large part to three beasts patrolling the paint: Cheikh Mbodj averages 2.6 blocks per game, Justin Jackson 1.3, and David Nyarsuk 1.2. According to KenPom, UC blocks 16.4% of its opponents' shots, which places the Cats seventh overall, and on the shots that opponents do get off inside the three-point line, they're shooting an anemic 40.2% (also seventh nationally). The three-headed monster frees Cincy's guards to patrol the perimeter, and opponents shoot just 29.8% from distance.
(4) EXPLOITABLE WEAKNESS(ES): Wright's importance to the team is hard to understate: he's the straw that stirs the drink, and he'd really turned it on as conference play started (18 points vs. Pitt, 23 each vs. St. John's and Rutgers, and 20 vs. DePaul). Things got a bit close for comfort when he exited against DePaul with 15 minutes left, as the Blue Demons outscored UC by seven in the last 10 minutes and shaved off most of a double-digit lead. If Wright can't go, or is severely limited in what he can do, the door cracks open to swipe a win.