A pair of NCAA Tournament teams from last season will square off at Fifth Third Arena on Tuesday night, as the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils battle the 24th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.
After its run to the Big Dance last year, this season did not get off to a solid start for the Delta Devils. In a season opener on the road against Ole Miss, MVSU was run off the court in a 93-57 loss. However, the Delta Devils may have to get used to that type of outcome with the squad reeling following the loss of head coach Sean Woods and all five starters from last year's team. Making matters worse, MVSU is on the road for its first eight games, seven of which come against teams in BCS conferences. The next matchup is against Northwestern.
It was a much easier start to the season for Cincinnati which had no trouble with a hapless Tennessee-Martin squad, as the Bearcats posted an 80-57 victory at home. Cincinnati made its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance last season and reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Ohio State. The Bearcats also won 26 games for the second straight season. Three starters return from that squad, which keeps its season opening four-game home stand going this Sunday against North Carolina A&T.
These two teams have only played once before, with Cincinnati rolling to a 74-58 win at home back in 1999.
The Delta Devils dug themselves a hole they could not get out of against Ole Miss, the team shooting a dismal 21.4 percent in the first half and missing all 10 attempts from beyond the arc. Turnovers also played a major role in the lopsided loss, with the Delta Devils coughing the ball up 23 times.
It is tough to really blame MVSU for struggling so much in its first game this season. Head coach Chico Potts inherited a largely inexperienced squad for his first season. Blake Ralling (1.0 ppg) was one of a few contributors from last season, although his role was extremely limited. Ralling made his way into the starting lineup in the opener, but finished with just two points and three rebounds. Davon Usher was the team's best offensive option in the game, and he took on a great deal of the responsibility in that area. The juco transfer heaved up 17 shots and scored 19 points while bringing down six rebounds. Nate Brandt, another juco transfer, also made his presence felt, albeit far less successfully. Brandt connected on just 1-of-10 shots from the floor and finished with only two points and a pair of rebounds. Matt Smith provided a spark of the bench with 11 boards and six points.
The Bearcats played solidly at the offensive end in their opener against UT- Martin, and were swarming on defense in limiting the Skyhawks to just 28.4 percent shooting while blocking 10 shots. UC shot 47.5 percent from the field, but committed 19 turnovers.
Having so many issues controlling the ball is surprising for a team that has one of the best backcourts in the country. The three-pronged attack of Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker was heavily utilized in game one, with the three combining for 38 points, six assists and 13 rebounds. Wright was the leading scorer with 16 points, but he had just as many assists as turnovers -- three of each. Kilpatrick was the primary scorer last season (14.3 ppg), and with his size and physical play was able to get himself to the free-throw line more than any other player in the opener (five attempts). Kilpatrick finished with 14 points, but also turned the ball over three times. Parker was more selective with his shots and took only three in the game, but still finished with eight points. On the frontline, UC is still trying to find a consistent replacement for Yancy Gates (12.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg). Justin Jackson rebounded well (11) against UTM, but was guilty of five turnovers. Cheik Mbodj swatted four shots and tallied five points and six rebounds.