12:15 PM EST, CBS – Line: Cincinnati -3.5, Over/Under: 137.5
If you’re still hungry for hoops after the first full day of the NCCA Tournament, then we have an early dish for you as the Tenth Seed Iowa Hawkeyes meet the Seventh Seed Cincinnati Bearcats, in what figures to be a home game for the latter with Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio serving as the venue. After a two-year hiatus, Iowa (22-11, 10-10 in Big Ten) makes it’s return to the NCAA Tournament, though they’re hardly built any momentum in doing so, losing six of their final seven games, including four straight to close out the Regular Season. At one point, the Hawkeyes were ranked as high as Fourteenth in the Polls, but this untimely slide has seen them crash out of the Top-25 altogether at arguably the most inopportune of times. It’s truly been an odd situation for this team, who at one point was 20-5 overall, and overcame three consecutive defeats to open conference play to establish a 9-5 mark by February 16th, highlighted by clutch, buzzer-beating victories over the likes of Northwestern (80-79) and Rutgers (71-69). However, then the losing began, with their nadir being a brutal 70-90 loss against Ohio State which led to two-game suspension for Head Coach Fran McCaffery for verbally abusing a Referee. Three of those losses have come by twenty or more points, which will lead many to question just where exactly this team’s collective head is at these days. With that said, if they can manage to right the ship, the Hawkeyes are certainly not without talent; one of the deeper teams in the Big Ten, Iowa goes about ten to eleven deep in their rotation, with four different players averaging in double-figures led by Junior Forward Tyler Cook (14.9 PTS, 52.8% FG, 7.9 REB, 2.4 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 20.4 PER), who paces the roster in both scoring (14.9) and rebounding (7.9). Cook performs just about all of his work around the rim, while McCaffery spaces things out by surrounding him with a bevvy of shooters, including the trio of Jordan Bohannon (11.3 PTS, 37.4% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 14.5 PER), Joe Wieskamp (10.8 PTS, 49.0% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.5 BLK, 18.8 PER), and Isaiah Moss (9.1 PTS, 39.4% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 1.8 AST, .9 STL, 14.0 PER). As a team, the Hawkeyes shoot 36.1% from beyond the arc (97th Overall), but have been far more prolific from the Charity Stripe, where they’ve knocked down the fourth-most Free-Throws in the country, averaging 17.9 singles.
When we last saw Iowa, they followed their lone win out of their last six contests (an 83-62 trouncing of Illinois) by getting humiliated by Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals, 53-74. Just about nothing went right for the Hawkeyes on Friday Night, who fell behind early, and watched the lead swell to Thirteen Points heading into Halftime. On the day, McCaffery’s troops shoot a dismal 35.6% from the field, including an embarrassing 1-of-16 from beyond the arc (06.3%), while committing more Turnovers (11) than Assists (10). Just about everyone outside of 6-11 Center Luka Garza (14 PTS, 6-of-11 FG) struggled to throw the basketball into the ocean, with the quartet of Cook, Bohannon, Wieskamp, and Moss combining to shoot just 10-of-28 from the floor (35.7%), including 0-of-6 from downtown. Bohannon, in particular, had a harsh night, going scoreless in nearly twenty minutes of action. Basically, if this team is stroking Three-Pointers then they’re going to be hard to beat, as was evidenced by their performance the previous night against the Illini (12-of-23 3FG), but when they put together a shooting performance like this one, then it’s going to be a long night for the folks in black and gold. McCaffery must demand more from his Backcourt, for the aforementioned Bohannon and Wieskamp simply weren’t aggressive enough to make a difference Friday Night, and that sure as hell doesn’t bode well for the prospects in the NCAA Tournament, where Guard Play remains king. The pairing attempted just Seven Field Goals between them, and went to the Charity Stripe only once. Defensively, they could do little to halt the Wolverine’s efficient movement of the basketball, allowing their counterparts to rack up a whopping Twenty-Four Assists, while forcing them into a mere Six Turnovers.
Meanwhile, despite receiving a Seven Seed from the Selection Committee, Cincinnati (28-6, 14-4 in AAC) must be elated by the fact that this matchup (and possibly it’s successor) will be contested just 107 miles down the road from home. One would have to imagine that the Bearcats are going to enjoy quite the homecourt advantage given they’ll be playing in Columbus, Ohio. It’s yet another of good fortune for a team that really came on strong down the stretch, finishing second in the American Athletic Conference in route to winning their second consecutive Conference Tournament Title. Mick Cronin continues to keep this Program in the thick of things, though they’ve yet to garner the national respect that the Head Coach, who in his thirteenth year on their sidelines, thinks they should. Now making their ninth consecutive appearance under his watch, the goal will be to advance past the first weekend for the first time since reaching the Sweet Sixteen back in the 2011-2012 campaign. Last season, they were a Two Seed, only to be upset by Seventh Seed Nevada, who rallied back from a 12-point deficit to advance to the next weekend. Winners of eight of their last ten outings, Cronin’s charges overcame a two-game losing streak to close the Regular Season by running the table in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, besting the likes of Southern Methodist (82-74), Wichita State (66-63), and most recently Regular Season Conference Champion Houston (69-57) in the Final. As is typically the case with the Bearcats, their far from the most pleasing of teams to watch, particularly on the offensive end of floor, but they sure are a handful on the defensive end. This season, Cincinnati has allowed just 62.2 Points per Game (12th Overall) on 40.6% shooting from the field (31st Overall), including 44.7% from within the arc (18th Overall), while outrebounding their opponents by 5.2 Boards per Game, and permitting 10.9 Assists (61st Overall). Furthermore, they are extremely active around the rim, crashing the offensive glass with 12.7 Offensive Rebounds (11th Overall), and racking up 4.5 Blocks (25th Overall). Offensively, AAC Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland (18.8 PTS, 40.4% FG, 39.1% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.4 BLK, 23.2 PER) is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink, leading the Bearcats in Scoring (18.8), Three-Point Field Goals (77), Assists (3.6), and Steals (1.1). the Junior Guard put on a show in the Conference Tournament, averaging 23.3 Points on 40.0% shooting from the floor, along with 6.0 Rebounds, 4.3 Assists, and 1.0 Steal inn the three successive victories.
When we last saw Cincinnati, they had successfully secured their second consecutive American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship, avenging two previous losses to Houston in the form of the 69-57 triumph. Things were tightly contested in the First Half, with the Bearcats owning a narrow 33-30 lead at Halftime, but after Intermission was a different story altogether, as Cronin’s troops outscored the Cougars 36-27 over the final twenty minutes of play. Unlike in the two prior meetings, they managed to snuff out their opponent’s offense, relegating Houston to a dreadful 30.6% shooting from the field, including 11-of-29 from within the arc (37.9%) and 8-of-23 from beyond it (24.2%), while permitting them a scant Eight Assists. Matters reached their low point in the Second Half, where the Cougars shot just 27.8% from the floor, including 3-of-18 from downtown (16.7). On the flipside, Cumberland picked a great time to play Superman, scoring Thirty-Three Points on 11-of-24 shooting overall (45.8%), including 10-of-17 shooting inside the arc (58.8%), while adding Eight Rebounds, an Assist and a Steal. As a team, they overcame compiling just Six Assists by getting to the Free-Throw Line, where they netted all but Six of their Twenty-Five Attempts (76.0%), where Cumberland alone was 10-of-13 (76.9%), and just muscling their counterparts inside the arc, where the successfully scored on 16-of-33 Attempts (48.5%). Tre Scott (9.3 PTS, 47.1% FG, 31.6% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 17.4 PER) added Twelve Points and Eight Rebounds, while Cane Broome (8.3 PTS, 39.8% FG, 29.9% 3FG, 1.6 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 15.3 PER) chipped in with Fifteen Points off the Bench.