Bearcats aim to sink Pirates, boost RPI

Cincinnati doesn’t necessarily care which teams it beats in the home stretch of the regular season. The Bearcats just want to amass as many victories as possible.

Cincinnati had to fend off a late rush from last-place Providence before winning 81-66 on Wednesday, the Bearcats’ third victory in the last seven games. Yet all Cincinnati cared about was that it improved to 18-8, 8-5 in the Big East.

The Bearcats are a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, as they rank 93rd in the RPI and are tied for sixth place in the Big East. Thus, they could stand to improve their resume.

Cincinnati will have that chance when it faces Seton Hall (18-8, 7-7) on Saturday in the second game of a three-game homestand. The Pirates have won three games in a row following a six-game losing streak.

Senior guard Jordan Theodore is Seton Hall’s top scorer with a 15.8-point average. Senior forward Herb Pope is averaging a double-double with 15.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin is scoring 12.8 points a game.

Cincinnati notched a 70-53 home victory over Seton Hall last season, as Sean Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with 14 points. Pope and Edwin each scored 10 points for Seton Hall.

STAR WATCH: Senior F Yancy Gates had 16 points and nine rebounds against Providence on Cincinnati. It’s the type of scoring performance more in line with what Cincinnati was expecting when the season began. Gates is averaging 12.8 points a game, which ranks third on the team and is just slightly up from 11.9 his mark last season. While Gates has been inconsistent in the point column, he has been a beast on the boards, as his 9.3 rebounding average is third in the Big East. He is averaging 9.9 rebounds over his past eight games, including four double-digit efforts.

NOTES, QUOTES

–Cincinnati turned in one of its worst defensive efforts of the season in a 95-78 loss at Marquette on Feb. 11. After taking a 12-point lead in the game’s first four minutes, Cincinnati fell apart. Head coach Mick Cronin said following the game he was surprised by his team’s response considering the fact that Cincinnati won at Marquette last season.

“I don’t know what they’ve been watching all season,” Cronin said. “I don’t know what they’ve been doing for the last 48 hours as we’ve been preparing for them. But like I said, we weren’t ready to play. We weren’t ready for what was going to happen.”

The Golden Eagles’ pressure defense pestered the Bearcats into 14 turnovers which they converted into 16 points. Marquette outran Cincinnati outscoring them 17-6 on fast breaks.

“You think they’re going to let us win two in a row at Marquette?” Cronin said. “We weren’t ready for their intensity level.”

–The loss at Marquette was Cincinnati’s most lopsided defeat of the season, besting the 23-point loss at Xavier on Dec. 10.

–Despite being blown out at Marquette, Cincinnati still ranked fourth in the Big East Conference in scoring defense allowing just 61.5 points per game. The Bearcats have held 19 of 25 opponents under 70 points this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 24 — Consecutive games in which Sean Kilpatrick hit a 3-pointer, through the weekend. He was averaging 2.9 3-pointers in that stretch. He entered this week having hit a 3-pointer in 47 of his 60 career games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think it was a must-win. We lost to them in Cincinnati so we had to come here and get a win. We’re trying to make the tourney for Yancy (Gates) and Dion (Dixon) for their senior season so we had to get a win.” — G Cashmere Wright, on Cincinnati’s win at St. John’s last week.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK’S GAMES:

–vs. Seton Hall, Feb. 18

KEY MATCHUPS: The Bearcats will need to slow Seton Hall’s duo of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope who each average better than 15 points per game. The Pirates allow just 63.1 points per game and opponents were shooting just 28 percent from 3-point range. The Bearcats expect a defensive struggle.

FUTURES MARKET: Injuries and a suspension after the Xavier brawl have slowed Cheikh Mbodj’s progress. But the junior center has been a defensive force of late. After having 10 blocks in the previous 14 games, Mbodj had seven last week in the win at St. John’s and loss Feb. 11 at Marquette. But he did not score and played just four minutes in the Marquette game. He has just nine points in the past five games as the Bearcats have returned to a more guard-oriented offense.

PLAYER NOTES

–Sophomore G Sean Kilpatrick has emerged as Cincinnati’s top scoring threat, as he scored a team-high 21 points in an 81-66 victory over Providence on Wednesday and has a team-leading 15.3-point average. It was his sixth 20-point game of the season and ninth of his career. Kilpatrick has scored in double digits in 22 of 26 games this season.

–Junior G Cashmere Wright had another solid game with nine points, five assists and one turnover against Providence. He has 74 assists and 28 turnovers in his last 16 games for a fine 2.6-to-1 ratio. Wright also has 31 steals in 13 Big East games this season for a 2.4 average.