Bearcats set to pounce on Friars

The 17th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats take on the Providence Friars in Big East Conference action on Wednesday at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

Mick Cronin's Bearcats have won two straight and five of their last six games to remain in the thick of the hunt in the Big East. With a 65-59 road win at Seton Hall this past weekend, Cincinnati moved to an impressive 18-4 overall and 6-3 in league play, just one game behind league-leading Syracuse.

Ed Cooley's second season at the helm of Providence has come with its ups and downs. The Friars have allowed a solid non-conference record to all but disappear with less than stellar play in-conference. Providence was able to end a three-game skein with last weekend's 55-52 win over Villanova. The victory brought Providence back to .500 overall at 11-11, but just 3-7 in Big East play.

All eight previous meetings between these two teams have come since Cincinnati joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season. The Bearcats defeated the Friars in the only meeting last year to tie things up at 4-4.

The gameplan for Cincinnati is to play stingy defense and work its offense off of that. The Bearcats are one of the nation's top defensive units in 2012-13, holding opponents to just 58.8 ppg, on a meager .374 shooting. UC also boasts of a solid +8.3 rebounding margin, while forcing 14.5 turnovers per game. Offensively speaking, Cincinnati is driven by its three-guard set. Sean Kilpatrick headlines the group and ranks third in the conference in scoring at 18.5 ppg. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker add 14.2 and 10.6 ppg, respectively. Kilpatrick and Wright are a formidable duo from long range, combining for 110 of the team's 161 3-pointers to date.

Cincinnati built up a 20-point lead early in the second half, but allowed the Pirates to battle back within four, before holding on for the win. The Bearcats were a solid 21-of-27 from the free-throw line in the game, including an 8-of-9 effort down the stretch to preserve the win. Kilpatrick drained 5 3- pointers in the win and led all scorers with 21 points. Wright poured in 17, while Parker finished with nine.

The Friars can counter with their own prolific scorer in Bryce Cotton. The 6-foot-1 junior leads the Big East in scoring at 21.4 ppg, thanks in large part to his .409 effort from behind the arc (67-of-164). Balance comes in the form of forwards Kadeem Batts (13.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and LaDontae Henton (13.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Senior point guard Vincent Council has missed a good portion of the season but is back to full strength and contributing both as a scorer (9.9 ppg) and a deft distributor (6.9 apg).

The Friars used strong defensive play to earn the season sweep of Villanova this past weekend. Providence held the Wildcats to an ugly 27.5 percent shooting performance, while forcing 18 turnovers in the win. Cotton led the team with a solid stat line consisting of 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Josh Fortune played a big role off the bench, tallying 15 points, all coming from behind the arc (5-of-5).

Cincinnati has played very well on the road this season and while Cotton always seems to get his points, the Friars fail to support him consistently. That will prove problematic against the Bearcats, as Kilpatrick is more than capable of matching Cotton's output point for point.