Texas (20-13) vs. Cincinnati (24-10)
Friday, March 16, 12:15 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Andy Sclight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bridgestone Arena (16,250) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: CBS. NCAA Tournament Record: Texas 34-32, Cincinnati 41-24. Series Record: Cincinnati leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Cincinnati will try to carry a strong performance in the Big East Conference Tournament into its East Region second-round matchup with Texas, as Friday's NCAA Tournament action kicks off with a heavyweight matchup between the sixth-seeded Bearcats and 11th-seeded Longhorns.
Cincinnati stamped its claim as one of the Big East's most dangerous teams entering the tournament with a thrilling run to the conference title tilt last weekend. The Bearcats dispatched Georgetown in the quarterfinals with a 72-70 triumph in double overtime, then upset top seed and No. 2 team in the country Syracuse, before falling to Louisville in the championship game. Their recent play gives the Bearcats seven wins in a difficult nine-game stretch to close the year with a school record 12 wins (12-6) in league play and 24-10 overall record. Of course, UC had been rattling cages all season long inside one of the more difficult conferences in the country. Cincinnati also beat Georgetown during the regular season as well as Louisville, UConn and Notre Dame while splitting with Marquette. The Bearcats can also count losses to Syracuse, South Florida, West Virginia and a non-conference setback to Xavier among their tough schedule.
This is UC's 26th overall appearance in the Big Dance and 16th in the past 21 years, carrying a 41-24 ledger into the 2012 edition. The Bearcats have found a wealth of success in past NCAA tournaments, winning back-to-back national titles in 1961-62. Cincy has made it to the Final Four on four different occasions, its last in 1992, with eight Elite Eight appearances overall. UC was knocked out in the third round of last year's tournament by eventual champion UConn as a six seed.
Texas also received an at-large bid for its body of work this year, most notably inside a tough Big 12 Conference. The Longhorns grabbed the six seed for the conference tournament and got by Iowa State in the quarterfinals before succumbing to eventual Big 12 tourney champs Missouri in the semis. Texas' schedule was littered with top-flight opponents, taking on non- conference foes North Carolina and NC State with no success before topping Temple in the early going. During Big 12 regular-season play, the 'Horns split with Iowa State and Kansas State but were swept by the likes of Missouri, Kansas and Baylor.
This is the Longhorns' 14th consecutive appearance in the Big Dance and 22nd in the past 24 years overall. Texas has found particular success lately in taking five of its last six opening games, with five trips to the Sweet 16 in nine years, including three Elite Eight appearances and one spot in the Final Four (2003). Last year, UT posted an 85-81 triumph over Oakland but went on to lose to Arizona in the third round. This is the 30th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament for Texas with a 34-32 record.
The Bearcats and Longhorns have tested wills on just one occasion previously, that being in the Sweet 16 of the 1963 NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati earned a 73-68 victory in Lawrence, Kansas on its way to a runner-up finish in the tourney.
The Bearcats have an efficient offense with four double-figure scorers, but maintain one of the Big East's better scoring margins at plus-7.3 thanks in large part to their defense. Cincinnati holds teams to a stingy 61.2 points per game and 41.2 percent shooting from the field. The offense averages 68.5 ppg and shoots an underwhelming 42.0 percent overall, but also has one of the league's better three-point shooting percentages at .343. A big reason for that success comes from sophomore Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the Big East with 84 triples on 36.8 percent shooting, and tops the Bearcat roster with 14.3 ppg. Senior Dion Dixon follows with a solid 13.1 ppg, while senior Yancy Gates provides 12.4 ppg and a team-high 9.2 rebounds -- good for third in the Big East. Junior Cashmere Wright gives UC a legitimate fourth double-digit scoring option at 10.9 ppg and leads the team with his 4.6 assists per game. Wright is also second to Kilpatrick on the squad with 58 threes on 37.2 percent shooting. Dixon also drops a decent number of three-pointers with 45 but shoots a dismal 26.8 percent from beyond. JaQuon Parker chips in 9.2 ppg and 5.4 boards with Kilpatrick adding 4.6 rpg to the mix. Overall, Cincinnati is pretty even with the opposition when it comes to winning the battle on the boards, holding a slim 36.2-36.0 edge.
The Longhorns are usually able to hold their own at the offensive end thanks in large part to the Big 12's top scorer J'Covan Brown, who puts up 20.1 ppg and dishes a team-best 3.8 assists. The junior also ranks among the league leaders in three-pointers with 77 on 36.7 percent shooting. Freshman Sheldon McClellan averages 11.3 ppg, proving a great asset in mostly coming off the bench this season, while fellow freshman Myck Kabongo has paid huge dividends in his first collegiate go-round with a 9.8-point average and a team-leading 5.3 assists -- also good for fourth in the Big 12. Adding depth are Julien Lewis (7.5 ppg) and Clint Chapman (7.3 ppg), who also tops the roster with 5.5 rebounds per contest. Jonathan Holmes kicks in an additional 7.2 ppg and 4.8 boards. Overall, Texas ranks fifth in the Big 12 with 73.1 points per game but on a lackluster 43.6 shooting percentage. The Longhorns will be hurt with the subtraction of Alexis Wangmene from the lineup after the senior suffered a dislocated left wrist in the regular-season finale. Although not a huge factor in terms of scoring, the big man averaged 21.5 minutes and started 26 games this season while posting 4.7 rpg and ranking second on the team in field goal percentage (.516). The Longhorns' defense is not exactly top of the line, but is mostly able to hold their own in permitting 66.8 ppg and a .414 shooting percentage. Texas also manages to hold its own on the glass with a plus-3.0 margin.
Texas proved this season that it can hang with most teams, but remains a relatively inexperienced club that appears a bit banged up heading into the tournament. Cincinnati on the other hand, is motoring into the tourney riding a wave of confidence. The Bearcats simply ran out of steam in their Big East final loss, but recent rest should have the squad re-charged and ready for action.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 68, Texas 64
03/16 10:45:11 ET