No. 19 Iowa State hosts Cincinnati in contrast of styles
When Cincinnati visits No. 19 Iowa State on Thursday night, it will be Round 2 in the matchup of former Murray State coaches who used the perennial Ohio Valley Conference power as a stepping stone to bigger things.
The Bearcats' Mick Cronin, who was 69-24 from 2003-06 with the Racers, matches wits with the Cyclones' Steve Prohm, who parlayed a 104-29 mark from 2011-15 at the small western Kentucky university into a Big 12 gig.
Both teams bring 5-1 records into the game with losses to Top 25 teams. Cincinnati's occurred at Rhode Island's hands, while Iowa State's happened Sunday against No. 8 Gonzaga 73-71 in the AdvoCare Invitational championship game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Trailing 49-34 at the half, the Cyclones stormed back behind an outstanding defensive effort that limited the Bulldogs to 29 percent shooting in the second half.
"The biggest thing we did in the second half was we competed at a whole different level," Prohm said. "I'm sure that Gonzaga missed some open shots, but we contested and competed. We have to do that every possession and every game."
Iowa State also got a monster game from 6-5 senior guard Deonte Burton, whose 29 points and 12 rebounds against the huge Bulldogs might have been the best game of his career. Burton also tossed in 21 points during a 73-56 semifinal win over Miami, marking the first time in his career he'd scored 20 points in consecutive games.
But the Cyclones' main man remains senior point guard Monte Morris, a preseason All-America pick who is leading the team in scoring at 16 points per game and is connecting on 52.6 percent of his shots. Morris is also averaging 5.6 assists for every turnover.
Iowa State, which averages 88.8 points, should have to work for its points against the Bearcats, who appear to be a typical Cronin team that defends fiercely. Cincinnati is yielding only 59.2 points per game and limiting opponents to 38.1 percent field goal shooting, putting it on track to rank in the top 20 nationally in both categories for a fourth straight season.
Cronin was pleased with his team's offense Saturday in a 91-68 thumping of Lipscomb. Four players reached double figures for the Bearcats, which canned 52.5 percent of their field goal attempts and drew 20 assists on 31 field goals.
Five players registered multiple assists, with point guard Troy Caupain and reserve Tre Scott notching five apiece.
"In the second half, our motion offense was the best it's been all year," Cronin said. "I think a lot of that has to do with Tre Scott's willingness to be a soldier for our team and get other people open. The more it worked, the more it became contagious with guys trying to move the ball and get each other open."
Sophomore swingman Jacob Evans leads Cincinnati's offense at 17.8 points, while 6-9 junior forward Kyle Washington is averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. The 6-4 Caupain needs three points to become the school's 50th 1,000-point scorer.