If you're like me these play in games are entertaining to watch and interesting to follow but the NCAA Basketball Tournament doesn't officially start until tomorrow. Thursday has always been the day when you block off as much time as possible to sit in front of the television and watch hoops from coast-to-coast. Oklahoma not being in the tournament just means that I'm going to cheer on the conference (except for Texas of course) and that starts tomorrow with Kansas State and Missouri. The Wildcats should handle Utah State fairly easily but Missouri and Cincinnati could go down as one of the best opening games of the tournament and will be a good measuring stick for the conference.
The Tigers are 5-0 in their last five first round games on the NCAA Tournament but one alarming stat is that they're 4-7 against teams in this year's field. The Tigers finished the season at 23-10 (8-8) which tied them with Colorado for fifth place in the conference. They didn't necessarily finish the season with a bunch of confidence either. The regular season ended with a three game losing streak and then they squeaked past Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament before being eliminated by Texas A&M in the quarterfinals. Yep, that's a 1-4 record to end the season. These guys definitely aren't entering the tournament sizzling. Let's ask Colorado how the feel about that shall we?
Here's why I thing this is going to be a great game. Cincinnati is 25-8 (11-7) and finished 6th in the Big East. Fairly close in comparison. However, the Tigers are also and experienced NCAA Tournament team. Tomorrow will mark their third consecutive appearance in the tournament while Cincinnati is making their first appearance since 2005. It isn't a big advantage but it goes towards the Tigers.
Both teams thrive on defense so we can expect this to be an ugly game at times. The Bearcats are holding opponents to under 60 points per game and are forcing 14 turnovers per game. Missouri will make you earn every inch of the 94-feet from baseline to baseline. They too thrive on turnovers but considering the inconsistency of the Tigers frontcourt and the occasional lack of patience in their half court offense you'd have to give a slight defensive advantage to Cincinnati.
Offensively its a different story though. The Tigers have five players averaging in double figures and the Bearcats have have two. Missouri is led by Marcus Denmon's 17 points per game while Cincinnati is led by Yancy Gates' 11.8. Missouri averages 84.5 points per game and Cincinnati produces 71.2. A slight advantage here as well but this time its going to the Tigers.
This game is going to come down to two factors in my opinion, free throw shooting and rebounding. Once again the two teams are split on advantages here. The Tigers are the better team from the charity stripe and the Bearcats are better on the boards.
What all of this means is that this is a game that's going to come down to basic fundamentals and mistakes. The team that does the little things right and makes the fewest mistakes advances on. These are the games that bring about March Madness.