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2015 NCAA Tournament Midwest Preview: Cincinnati vs. Purdue


Mar 8, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats guard Troy Caupain (10) celebrates with the fans after defeating the Memphis Tigers 77-65 at Fifth Third Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA tournament first-round matchups get more intriguing as Thursday progresses in the Midwest region, with the third game of the day featuring two teams that fell short of their conference title game but got at large bids into the tournament due to some big regular-season wins.

Thursday, March 19; 7:10 p.m. – No. 8 Cincinnati (22-10) vs. No. 9 Purdue (21-12)


Mar 8, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats forward Octavius Ellis (2) and forward Jermaine Sanders (15) react during the second half against the Memphis Tigers at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats won 77-65. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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Strengths: Interim head coach Larry Davis did a great job with the Bearcats after Mick Cronin stepped aside due to health injuries. While their schedule wasn’t the most intimidating, the Bearcats did manage to beat the AAC champion, SMU, twice to go along with nice victories over NC State and San Diego State.

Their biggest strength is their defense, as the team allows just 55.2 points per game to opponents. They mix up a combination of of man-to-man and zone defenses throughout the game to prevent the other team from ever getting into a rhythm. Cincinnati’s 92.9 defensive efficiency rating is good for 18th in the country.

Junior forward Octavius Ellis is a great defensive post presence, pulling down 7.3 rebounds per game  and averaging 2.1 blocks per game. Freshman forward Gary Clark grabs 7.0 RPG and is also a solid post passer. Their guard play is anchored by sophomore Troy Caupain (9.5 PPG, 3.5 assists per game).

Weaknesses: Cincinnati’s offense can go ice cold at times. Ellis is the teams leading scorer at 10.0 PPG. The Bearcats win games by scoring just enough to get by with their stingy defense, but it is tough for them to keep pace with teams who figure out how to hit some early baskets.

Their snail pace on offense leads to less possessions and thus less scoring opportunities. Teams with big physical bigs can often out-muscle Cincinnati, at Ellis is just 230 points despite his 6’10” frame. With Purdue’s big men, the Bearcats might need some big play out of junior center Coreontae DeBerry and his 6’10”, 270-pound frame. Any team that disrupts Cincinnati on offense as much as the Bearcats disrupt them on defense has a chance of pulling out a win.


Mar 7, 2015; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers center A.J. Hammons (20) connects with members of the Paint Crew after the game at Mackey Arena. Purdue defeated Illinois 63-58. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

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  • Strengths: Head coach Matt Painter guided the Boilermakers through the Big Ten in large part thanks to the team’s depth. Ten players for Purdue average over ten minutes per game and the team has reliable options at every position.

    Some of the best players on the team come off of the bench, with three of Purdue’s top scorers in sophomore guard Kendall Stephens (8.8 PPG), freshman guard Vince Edwards (8.6 PPG) and freshman center Issac Haas (7.6 PPG) beginning each game riding the pine. Haas is a 7-footer, but isn’t even the team’s biggest post presence.

    That would be junior center A.J. Hammons, another 7-footer who averages 11.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 2.9 BPG. He ranks 10th in the nation in block percentage and has an equally large impact on both sides of the ball.

    Junior guard Rapheal Davis leads the team in assists (2.7 APG), is second in scoring (10.9 PPG) and steals (0.8 steals per game) and is third in rebounds (4.2 RPG).

    Weaknesses: Stephens is a very capable 3-point shooter, but is more often than not a boom-or-bust in terms of production. He might show up and drop 20 on one night and then shoot 0-8 the next night.

    Against a stingy Cincinnati defense, the Boilermakers will need Stephens to make the shots that he takes in order to pull away. The rest of the roster is not great in terms of outside shooting, which makes it easier for opponents to pack the low post and throw double teams at Hammons.

    Cincinnati Will Win If: They hold Purdue under 60 points. The Bearcats’ tough defense is a given, and they will make it tough on Hammons all day. If Purdue’s depth is unable to find space to score, they will be hard-pressed to beat a Cincinnati team that usually scores just enough points to win.

    Purdue Will Win If: They score over 60 points. Cincinnati has a great defense, but with only one double-digit scorer, it is doubtful that they can keep up with Purdue if they start hitting their shots, especially if the hot-shooting Stephens shows up.

    Prediction: Purdue. Ellis will be in foul trouble all day and Hammons will have score at least 15 in the post. Cincinnati’s slow pace plays right into the hands of the Boilermakers on defense, who take advantage of the cold-shooting Bearcats to win a rockfight.

    Next: NCAA Tournament Preview: Butler vs. Texas

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