Just two days after an embarrassing loss to Bob Huggins’ alma mater, Kansas hosts the school that made Bub Huggins famous. It’s been nearly 20 years since Huggins coached at Cincinnati, but it’s still remained somewhat of a basketball school to this day. Mick Cronin kept Cincinnati a routine tournament participant through the 2010s, and now Wes Miller seems to have them competitive again coming off an NIT appearance last year. Cincinnati is 13-5 for the season, though off to just a 2-3 start to league play. They currently sit at 33rd in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, with big wins over BYU and TCU, but no other wins over teams in KenPom’s top 120.
The Bearcats are doing their best to fit into today’s Big 12. They play excellent defense and aren’t as concerned with offense. KenPom rates their defense 22nd nationally (3rd in Big 12 play), but 68th offensively (12th in Big 12 play). For the season, Cincinnati hasn’t relied much on forcing turnovers for their defensive numbers, but through five league games, they rank 3rd in Big 12 play in turnover rate, in a league with a lot of teams that force a bunch of turnovers, with opponents giving them the ball exactly 20% of the time they have possession. Where they’ve been elite is on the defensive boards, ranking 7th nationally on the glass (though only 8th in the Big 12 at allowing a 30% OReb%). What makes previewing the quality of Cincinnati’s team tough, and makes their season/conference splits so different, is that Cincinnati didn’t get tested much in their non-conference slate. They played just two KenPom top 100 teams (Dayton and Xavier) and lost to both. So while their season-long numbers can be very impressive in some areas, how much of that is due to their playing the 296th-toughest non-conference schedule? And it’s tough to draw large conclusions from only five games against Big 12 teams, leaving only vague ideas to feel sure of. One of those vague things is certainly that this team looks to defend first, play at a medium tempo, and play solid 2-point defense without fouling much. They’ve been somewhere between mediocre and bad as a three point shooting team, but West Virginia just reminded us all how little that can matter in a single game.
Individually, Viktor Lakhin leads the Bearcats in scoring, 2P%, block rate, and offensive rebounding. The 6’11 junior center will likely be battling Hunter Dickinson on both ends when he’s in the game. Cincinnati also has a 7-footer as a backup, so height will not be a problem for them. They haven’t shot a ton of threes, but have several players with a good percentage on fairly low volume. Their top shooter, Kentucky transfer CJ Fredrick, has been out for 7 games with no announced date for return from a hamstring injury. Their main three point threat will be Simus Lukosius, who’s attempted a team high 83 threes this year, hitting 36% of them. He’s not afraid to let it fly, coming off 12 attempts in Cincy’s loss to Oklahoma over the weekend.
This Kansas team hasn’t exactly been predictable. The UCF loss was a tough one, but it seemed like they learned their lesson with a couple of solid performances to bounce back. Then West Virginia steamrolled what had been one of the top defenses with great shooting from inside and behind the arc. Kansas also has a host of victories over mediocre teams that have come far too close for comfort, with a handful of blowout victories sprinkled in. No doubt Self will have this group ready to prove themselves coming off by far their worst loss of the year, but I’m skeptical that Kansas will steamroll a team that plays defense as consistently well as Cincinnati has. Two days after they grabbed less than 20% of their own misses in Morgantown, Kansas is playing a Cincy squad that’s 7th nationally in defensive rebounding for the year. The Jayhawks need to get good looks and make the most of them, because they’re unlikely to grab their misses, and unlikely to get bailed out by fouls. I don’t think this Cincinnati team will roll in and out of Lawrence with a win, but I also don’t trust Kansas to simply cruise to victory right now. The line sits at 8.5 right now, and I think the Bearcats cover.
Kansas 72, Cincinnati 67