IOWA (8-3) VS. CINCINNATI (7-4)
After a week-long layoff, Iowa basketball returns to the court Saturday night against a familiar foe: The Cincinnati Bearcats, whom Iowa defeated in last year's NCAA Tournament. Tipoff at the United Center is set for 8 p.m. Central, with television coverage on BTN.
A lot has changed at Cincinnati in the nine months since we last saw them. For one, the coach left: After thirteen seasons in the spaghetti chili capital of the world, Mick Cronin took the job left open by [NAME REDACTED] at UCLA. The replacement is former Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen. Yes, it's a big step up in class, but Brannen got his NKU Norse to the NCAA Tournament twice in the last three years. Brannen comes from the Anthony Grant tree -- he was an assistant for Grant at VCU and Alabama -- which usually means a focus on perimeter defense and serviceable-at-best offense.
That's starting to hold true for Brannen's squad at Cincinnati. The Kenpom profile -- 60th nationally in offensive efficiency, 58th in defensive efficiency -- is the picture of a team that is generally competent but doesn't particularly stand out anywhere. If there's anything that Cincinnati does well this year, it's getting to the foul line: They are getting more than two free throw attempts for every five field goal attempts, one of the highest free throw attempt rates in the nation. But the Bearcats are barely shooting 66 percent at the line, and 31 percent from three. Throw that average shooting in with a stunningly high turnover rate, and you can see how this team has looked slightly schizophrenic in the last couple of weeks.
The Bearcats' loss to Colgate last week was a pretty good summation of Cincinnati's season to date:
They followed that up by beating Tennessee by 12, albeit at home, so who knows what we're going to see Saturday.
A couple of big names from last year's team are gone: Senior guards Justin Jenifer (who carved up Iowa for 19 points) and Cane Broome have graduated, and center Nysier Brooks transferred to Miami. Combo guard Jarron Cumberland (6'5", 210) is the only guy who scored more than 10 in last year's tournament game still on the team; if you remember, he went for 18. Brannen has shifted Cumberland from shooting guard to the point this year; Cumberland has responded with decent scoring (12.8 ppg) but with far fewer minutes and far less efficiency. It's unknown how much an offseason foot injury has bugged him during the season, but for whatever reason, it's clear that Cumberland hasn't been his former self.
It's actually Keith Williams (6'5", 215, 13.0 ppg), who scored just four points in last season's meeting, leading Cincinnati in scoring so far this year. Brannen started freshman guard Mika Adams-Woods (6'3", 185) for the first time against Tennessee; Adams-Woods responded with 11 points and 4 assists. Cumberland's cousin, Jaevin Cumberland (6'3", 185, 11.5 ppg), was benched for Adams-Woods. He now provides depth in the backcourt from the bench.
Forward Tre Scott (6'8", 225, 8.9 ppg) remains from last year's squad, as well. Scott scored 10 on Iowa in March. Scott leads the Bearcats in rebounding, hauling in more than nine per game. Sophomore center Chris Vogt (7'1", 260) transferred with Brannen from Northern Kentucky, and has shown an ability to play at this level so far. Vogt is averaging 12.7 points per game on 69% shooting, and grabs a handful of rebounds a game, as well. Only Ohio State (with Kaleb Wesson) has been able to keep him in single digits this year.
Vogt hasn't faced a center like Wesson since then, though. He will Saturday night. This is a different Iowa team fro last year, but it was Garza and Weiskamp who dominated in the tournament game last March, and both will be there Saturday. But the key to the game may be Joe Toussiant. The freshman point guard is set to get his first start of the season Saturday night. Iowa's got the second-highest offensive efficiency in the nation due almost exclusively to its lack of unforced errors. If Iowa's inexperienced, Bohannon-less backcourt can continue that trend against the perimeter-oriented defense of Cincinnati, the turnover margin alone should lead Iowa to victory.