Iowa is back in the NCAA Tournament after a three-year absence -- hooray! They're set to play Cincinnati on Friday, March 22 (11:15 AM CT, CBS). But what do we know about the Bearcats ahead of that game? Let's hit on a few points:
1. Cincinnati won the American Athletic Conference Tournament
The Bearcats went 25-6 in the regular season this year and 14-4 in the American Athletic Conference, good for a second-place finish behind Houston (29-2 overall, 16-2 in AAC). They had a chance to win the league outright at 14-2 heading into their final two games (including a season finale against Houston), but lost both games. The Bearcats rebounded in impressive fashion in the AAC Tournament, though, dispatching SMU and Wichita State to get to the final, where they beat Houston (avenging two regular season losses to the Cougars) to be crowned tournament champions. So Cincinnati should enter the NCAA Tournament with some positive mojo and plenty of confidence.
2. Jarron Cumberland is the star of the show
Jarron Cumberland, a 6-5, 205 lb junior guard for the Bearcats, is not only their best player -- he was the best player in the entire American Athletic Conference, earning AAC Player of the Year honors. Cumberland averaged 18.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, and 1.2 spg while draining 40.4% of his 3-point attempts. He scored 20 or more in 15 games and was named AAC Player of the Week four times. His combination of size and athleticism is going to be a massive challenge for Iowa's defense.
3. But the Bearcats have a balanced attack, too
Cumberland is the unquestioned star of this Bearcat team and the engine that makes it go -- no other Bearcats earned All-AAC honors -- they have a pretty balanced attack outside of him. Only Keith Williams, a 6-5, 210 lb wing, is averaging double figures in scoring (10.1 ppg), but four other players (guards Cane Broome and Justin Jenifer, forward, Tre Scott, and center Nysier Brooks) are averaging between 8.0 and 9.3 ppg, led by Scott. Scott leads the team in rebounds (6.9 rpg, nice), with Brooks ranking second (6.4 rpg). Cumberland is the team leader in assists (3.6 apg), but Broome (2.2 apg) and Jenifer (2.9) hand out their fair share of dimes as well. Jenifer (44.5 3FG%) and Cumberland (40.4 3FG%) are their most dangerous outside shooters, although if you want a pick for "shooter who gets inexplicably hot from outside against Iowa," I'd go with Keith Williams (28.4 3FG%) or cane Broome (29.9 3FG%). In all, Cincinnati has nine guys averaging at least 10 or more mpg, though three of those players (guards Rashawn Fredericks and Trevor Moore and forward Eliel Nsoseme) are only averaging 10-11 minutes per game.
4. Slow it down
Cincinnati is a
plodding deliberate team: they averaging 63.2 possessions per game, which ranks 338th in the nation. That's actually slower (by a few tenths of a possession) than any team in the Big Ten; Wisconsin (who else?) was the slowest team in the league this year at 63.6 possessions per game. Iowa, of course, prefers a much brisker tempo (69.4 possessions per game, 82nd quickest in the nation), so whichever team is able to impose their preferred tempo in this game could be at a decided advantage. The Bearcats succeed with their slower tempo by being quite efficient on both offense and defense. They're 28th nationally in defensive efficiency and 46th nationally in offensive efficiency.
5. This is familiar territory for the Bearcats
While Iowa is making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in three years, NCAA Tournament appearances are business as usual for the Bearcats. This is Year 13 for Mick Cronin at Cincinnati and while he didn't get the Bearcats into the NCAA Tournament until his fifth year in charge (2011), they've made it to the Big Dance every year since then. Overall, Cincinnati is 6-8 in the NCAA Tournament over those eight appearances, with the high point being a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012. Cronin's teams have gone 5-3 in the first round during his tenure, including wins in three of the last four seasons prior to this one. As a 6-seed, Cincinnati beat Kansas State 75-61 in their NCAA Tournament opener in 2017 and smashed Georgia State 68-53 as a 2-seed in their tourney opener last year.
BONUS: Revenge for 2005
Cincinnati has dominated the Iowa-Cincinnati series over the years; they hold a 6-2 edge against the Hawkeyes, though they haven't played one another in almost 15 years. Their last appearance was eerily similar to this one, though. Iowa and Cincinnati met up in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament (just like this year), with Cincinnati as a 7-seed (just like this year) and Iowa as a 10-seed (ditto). Cincinnati won that game, 76-64, after jumping out to a 10-point halftime head and holding off Iowa in the second half. Iowa couldn't stop Jason Maxiell (22 points on 8/11 shooting, 9 rebounds), although Greg Brunner did put up a double double (20 points on 7/17 shooting, 10 rebounds) in defeat. No matter who wins this game on Friday, though, we won't have to wait long for a rematch -- Iowa and Cincinnati are scheduled to play a non-conference game at the United Center in Chicago on December 21, 2019.