One of the teams in the Sweet 16 last season will kick off its much anticipated 2012-13 season when No. 24 Cincinnati hosts the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks at Fifth Third Arena this afternoon.
For Tennessee-Martin this will actually be the second game of the season. The Skyhawks got going on Friday on the road against Arkansas-Little Rock but stumbled in an 84-68 defeat. Losing has been a common occurrence for Tennessee-Martin of late as the Skyhawks are coming off a four-win campaign a year ago.
Cincinnati was much more successful last season with the squad making a run to the Sweet 16. Overall the Bearcats ended the season 26-11, including wins in 11 of its final 15 games. There are three starters returning, all in the backcourt for Cincinnati this season. That is good news for the Bearcats, as Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker form a trio of guards that rivals any in the nation.
There isn't a whole lot of history between these programs with Cincinnati holding wins in each of the two previous meetings.
In its loss to Arkansas-Little Rock, Tennessee Martin turned the ball over 16 times which the Trojans converted into 21 points. There was also a large discrepancy in the output each team got from its reserves, with the Skyhawks bench outscored 46-16 by the Trojans.
Myles Taylor was the lone bright spot in the losing effort. Last season's second leading scorer (13.7), Taylor looked in mid-season form as he poured in 24 points against Arkansas-Little Rock. That type of effort falls right in line with how Taylor left off last season, as he put up point totals of 24 and 31 in the last two games he played in. Mike Liabo was the leading scorer last season (15.3 ppg) but failed to live up to that against the Trojans connecting on only 2-of-8 shot attempts for seven points despite playing the second most minutes (30). Surprisingly it was Justin Childs that was on the court the most. The junior guard played 31 minutes but did not use those minutes well as he shot just 2-for-10 from the floor and had as many assists as turnovers. Terence Smith also struggled to hold onto the ball with five turnovers that erased an otherwise strong effort (10 points, six assists).
The Skyhawks will really need to tighten up in the backcourt if they hope to upset Cincinnati. The trio of Kilpatrick, Wright and Parker accounted for just over 50 percent of the Bearcats' offensive output last season. That is quite a chunk especially for a team that ranked 11th in the Big East in scoring (68.2 ppg). At 6-4, Kilpatrick (14.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg) has great size to get inside and is the team's leading scorer from a year ago. Wright (10.9 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.0 spg) is more of a distributor but can score when called upon. Wright is also a valuable asset defensively as lead the team in steals. Parker (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is also a sizable guard (6-3) that can score and rebound well. Where the Bearcats really have uncertainty is in the frontcourt with Yancy Gates (12.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg) gone. Justin Jackson (5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) has the size (6-8, 213) to replace Gates, while much is expected of recruit Shaquille Thomas.