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NCAA Tournament Preview West Region - First Round (11) Missouri vs. (6) Cincinnati

Thursday, March 17 - 9:50 PM ET

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The Cincinnati Bearcats are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, and their first time under fifth-year coach Mick Cronin. The former Murray State maestro has slowly turned the team around, going from 11 wins in his first season to 25 this season. While Cincinnati’s season ended with a 38-point loss to Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, the Bearcats had still impressed enough to get a six seed in the NCAA tourney.

The team is merely average in most offensive categories, relying on a strong defense to win games. The Bearcats rank eighth in the nation in points allowed at 59.2, and are in the top-65 in opponent field goal percentage and rebounds allowed. The Bearcats do have five players who shoot above 34 percent from long range, making it a strong weapon, but it is their active defense that they turn to when in need. They force almost 14 turnovers a game and like slowing down the pace of the game. 

They will face a contrasting approach in Missouri. The Tigers like to run, averaging 81.4 points per game. The team shoots better than 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. The Tigers are also a good free-throw-shooting team. Defensively, the Tigers employ a similar style, thriving on forcing turnovers with an active defense. The transition points are big for the team; when forced into a half-court game, the shot selection worsens as Mizzou’s patience runs thin. The Tigers’ front line is built to run the floor, not grab rebounds and play physical down low, and that gets them into trouble at times. If the Bearcats can get prime big man Yancy Gates involved in the post, it could be a long game for the Tigers.

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The Tigers have had an up-and-down season, struggling to show consistency. They've gone through stretches in which they’ve followed a string of wins with a bad loss. They finished the season on a three-game losing streak, and then after surviving Texas Tech to start the Big 12 tournament, they were destroyed by Texas A&M in the quarterfinals, prompting guard Kim English to state that he thought the team "quit" in the loss.  Coach Mike Anderson disagrees, saying the team was just outplayed, but either way it’s not a good way to enter the NCAAs. The Tigers are used to the underdog status they’ll face in this tussle: They were the 10 seed in the tournament last year and pulled off a first-round win against Clemson before falling in the second round. They'll need a similar game against Cincy if they hope to make it to the first weekend.

The Tigers have five guys averaging double digits, led by guard Marcus Denmon's 17.1 points per game and 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range. Their top three scorers all shoot better than 50 percent from the field. The Bearcats are paced by Gates and guard Dion Dixon, who both average almost 12 points per game. Their top four guards all shoot better than 34 percent from downtown and are not afraid of launching up the shot when they get the ball. With that said, the game could come down to which team is able to impose its pace on the opponent and which team is able to avoid crucial turnovers.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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