Welcome to the 2016-17 basketball season’s first edition of WRNL Interrogates! Later tonight, Iowa State will host Cincinnati in a high-level non-conference matchup between two opponents who will likely find themselves in the NCAA Tournament at year’s end. Whichever team comes out on top will have one more good win on their resume come March.
Our interviewee this time around? Down The Drive’s Phil Neuffer, a Bearcat fan and managing editor over at DTD.
Kevin: Like Iowa State, Cincinnati has played a fairly weak non-conference schedule so far this season. What have you learned about this Bearcats squad through the first 6 games of the season?
Phil: It’s a lesson we learn every year covering the Bearcats, but no matter who is in the rotation, UC is going to defend the heck out of the ball. Granted, there have been some lesser opponents in the mix, but UC is tied for 13th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (91.7) according to KenPom and is also 30th in steals (54) and 17th nationally in blocked shots (70) and that’s all after Octavius Ellis and Coreonte DeBerry gone.
On the offensive side, UC is a bit better than the national reputation it has gained in recent years, primarily thanks to Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, but slow starts have been an issue. It has been able to overcome weak shooting in the first half against lesser competition like Samford and Lipscomb, but playing consistently for 40 minutes will be critical as the schedule gets more difficult.
Kevin: Cincy's only loss on the year has been to a top 25 team in Rhode Island. What went wrong against the Rams?
Phil: This may contradict my last point from the previous answer, but UC did the exact opposite thing against URI, dominating the first 20 minutes and then failing to hold on in the second half. The Bearcats only made 33.3 percent of their shots in the second frame after sinking 54.2 percent in the first. They also got outworked on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 39-30. It didn’t help that Gary Clark and Troy Caupain both struggled a bit as well.
Kevin: Which players from last year's team will Iowa State fans recognize? Who are the newcomers making an impact?
Phil: Caupain has taken on a different role this season, taking a backseat to Washington and Evans in terms of scoring production, but he’s still a tenacious defender in the backcourt and the offense still runs in his hands. Clark is back this season, but he sprained his ankle against Lipscomb and is day-to-day. It’s unclear if he will play on Thursday. Evans is another returning player, but a different one than ISU saw last season. He had 14 points off the bench in last year’s matchup but now he is the No. 1 scoring option and has put up 18.2 points per game while ranking second among qualifying players in usage percentage (22.9). Kevin Johnson and Justin Jenifer are both returning contributors, but both have been struggling a bit in the early going.
As far as newcomers, nobody looms larger than Washington, who has been a double-double machine who eats opposing frontcourts and spits them back out. The NC State transfer has been incredible and right now is playing better than anyone on the team. Some other fresh faces to keep an eye on are touted recruit Jarron Cumberland, who scored a career-high 17 points last time out, and Tre Scott, who will likely take on the bulk of Clark’s minutes if he is out.
Kevin: If you had to make a prediction today, how far does Cincinnati advance in the postseason this year? What's the team's ceiling?
Phil: With the way Washington and Evans have played, I think the ceiling is rather high for this team. I think the American Athletic Conference title is the Bearcats to lose, especially if Caupain and Clark round into shape and get healthy. UC has made a nasty habit of falling out of the NCAA Tournament early but I think this team has the pieces to make a run. I’d say the Sweet 16 is a reasonable expectation with the Elite Eight the absolute ceiling.
Kevin: Let's get your prediction for the game. Can the Bearcats come into Hilton Coliseum and steal one from the Cyclones?
Phil: In this battle of offense versus defense I think this will certainly be tightly contested just as it was a year ago. However, UC has had trouble getting “big wins” especially on the road in the last couple years. I am fully prepared for another tight game that will have me wringing my hands for 40 grueling minutes only for UC to come up just short. If you want a score, how about Iowa State 71, Cincinnati 68.
Kevin: BONUS QUESTION - This is a tradition at WRNL and you have to give us your opinion. FMK: Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson. GO.
Phil: I did not realize that WRNL was being run by Billy Bush circa 2005. Based on movies, I guess I would go K Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect was OK), F Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique and Katniss are dope roles and she’s always a threat for an Oscar worthy flick) and M Emma Watson (Harry Potter on loop for forever isn’t terrible).
YAASSSSS we’ve got a #TeamDontKillEmma fan in the house! Well done, Phil. This solidifies my belief that Cincinnati is a great Big 12 expansion candidate.