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Missouri vs Cincinnati: A Down The Drive Q&A

Might the key to this game be sucking Darnell Wilks and company into playing a fast game they might be more than willing to play?
Might the key to this game be sucking Darnell Wilks and company into playing a fast game they might be more than willing to play?

So you've gotten to know Cincinnati, and you've gotten to better know Cincinnati ... what have we missed?  Time to head Down The Drive to fill in the gaps.  Thanks to Matt from DTD, and good luck to Cincy, um, next year after they lose to Mizzou tonight, I guess?

1. Knowing what you know about Missouri at this point, what concerns you the most about tomorrow night's game?

It is the pace of the game. UC and Mizzou are both pressing teams, both of them build offense from their defense and look for run outs at every possible opportunity. That is the primary identifier of both teams, but the reasons behind pressing are very different. The Tigers press to distort the offenses they face. From what I can gather this system is chaos theory personified, they continuously pump variables (steals,blocks, 10 second plays, turnovers ect.) into the system to distort the output of the opposition, to turn them into something that they are not. That happens all game long, but from past observation of Mizzou, mainly last year I haven't seen much of the Tigers this year, there comes a point in the game where the Mizzou defense becomes self sustaining, and though the press might be applied for the full 40 minutes, its reaches a point of maximum effectiveness. When that moment comes Mizzou is in the drivers seat because that brings the secondary break into play, and that, to me at least is where they are at the best on offense. So the Tigers press to reach this zenith of absolute chaos.

On the flip side the Bearcats press to slow the game down. They don't trap on most, or even a majority of defensive possessions, and they do it at random times. Basically the trapper looks for the ball handler to cross at the coffin corner with no awareness of the defensive alignment. When they do it they look for the rip and the run out. But this isn't a gambling press by any stretch of the imagination. It is a very staid and conservative one. While it is a press in name, it is basically just extending the defense to three quarter court. Unlike Missouri the aim of the thing isn't to reap death and destruction upon the foe, it is just to shut off the counter attack.

2. Notre Dame aside, it's hard not to notice some of the recent shooting percentages Cincinnati has allowed, particularly against Georgetown.  Would you say that FG% defense has been one of the keys to Cincy's late hot streak?

Without a doubt. The field goal percentage defense has been stellar over the last month of the season. Notre Dame killed the defense with an endless array of curls, fades and double screens that there simply wasn't an answer for. Tim Abromaitis in particular was devastatingly effective. Traditionally UC has struggled to defend stretch 4's under Cronin. Going into a game UC typically has one of two advantages over a foe, it is either size or perimeter athleticism, but teams that can employ a stretch four eliminate both of those because it brings a big out from under the basket and if the 4 is playing behind the arc he is obviously hyper athletic so that other supposed advantage goes out the window. When I go back and look at the losses this year the first thing I look at is points scored. If UC can score 55+ they have a 50/50 chance to win the thing. Of the 8 games that UC has lost they scored 55 or more in 6 of them, and all 8 losses are in the top 10 on the most points allowed list this season. So what that tells you is that UC wins and loses games on the defensive end above all. Teams that beat UC don't really do it by playing games the way Mick Cronin wants them to, only Pitt and St. John's have really done that this year.

3. A Rock M commenter pointed out that against teams that like to pick up the pace, Cincy hasn't fared amazingly well.  They did beat Providence and DePaul (twice), but two of three games were tight.  Does this hint that Mizzou might be able to suck the Bearcats out of their comfort zone a bit and run (and that it would potentially benefit Mizzou to do so)?

The funny thing is that UC's offensive talent is much more conducive to playing a running style offensively. There is a seemingly endless array of athletes on this team. When you look at the wing players, almost all of them have great capabilities to play the end to end game from Justin Jackson and Darnell "Tip-Dunk" Wilks to Rashad Bishop and Dion Dixon there is no shortage of players who can play the up temp transition game. Cashmere Wright would love nothing more than to play that style. Even Yancy Gates is athletic enough to run in transition and make plays that way. Offensively there is no issue playing the all fast break all the time style. Ok there is a shot selection issue with that style, but that is really dependent on the personell rather than the tactics.  And given just how dreadful, and I do mean dreadful, the half court offense has been this season I would be in favor of it.

The problem is that the faster the game gets played the easier it is for the Bearcat defense to get stretched and wind up out of position. When the UC defense gets set in front of a defense it is very, very difficult for an opposing offense to go through it to score. Because Cronin prefers a zone press and a man to man half court defense the time to attack this team is the split second when they switch from one defense to the other. When the pace is slow it is very hard to exploit that momentary gap, Notre Dame is the only team who has had much of any success doing it this season. But when the pace is fast that is a much easier play to make for an opposing offense. That is the problem with running for these Bearcats. They can play the transition game on offense, but they can't really do it on defense. As for the two DePaul games and Providence those are special cases as far as I am concerned. The last DePaul game was a classic let down the Bearcats kicked ass for 32 minutes solid and had a double digit lead with about 8 to go before the subs went in and everyone basically stopped playing. Providence was a bit of a repeat to the last DePaul game with the added annoyance of the Friars having Marshon Brooks, who promptly went all Marshon Brooks on us to force overtime.

So in summation I am fine to a quicker pace for the offense, not so much for the defense which is subject to massive and endemic collapses the faster the game is played, kinda like the Zimbabwean Dollar.

4. We learn a lot about Missouri in the opening minutes of a game -- Are the open shots falling? Is Mizzou focusing extra on rebounding, or are they keeping the minimal number of guys on the glass to try to run, run, run?  Does a random big pick up two fouls in the game's first 45 seconds?  What do you look for -- good signs or bad -- early in Cincinnati games?

We will break this down in bullet point form for easy digestion.

Good Signs
* An active and interested Yancy Gates; Characterized by rebounds, blocks and attacking the basket offensively

* Cashmere Wright playing at an appropriate pace; characterized by generally smart decisions and avoiding the temptation to make passes that are really stupid but would look "f***ing sweet, man" when he finally figures out how to rip files from his DVR to cut a highlight that will subsequently be uploaded onto youtube.

* Rebounding effort, Characterized by a gang rebounding mentality in which everyone collapses inside to rebound on a shot.

* Effective pressing, Characterized by a couple of near misses on 10 second violations, steals or at the very least deflections

Bad Signs
* Made Jumpers, I dread when these guys hit a couple of early threes or long jumpers. UC is not a jump shooting team, Sean Kilpatrick is the only guy who fits that particular mold. But if a couple go early everyone thinks they are Kevin Durant or something

* Bad Basketball IQ plays; Pray for 7 foot Ibrahima Thomas to shoot an early three or something, that will be a great sign for Mizzou

* Cheap Fouls, this is the opposite of the good Yancy Gates. We haven't seen that one in a while, I pray I don't see him again

5. Mick Cronin: more Aussie Rules Mick Cronin, Walter Cronkite or Mick Jagger?

Aussie Rules with out a doubt. The sport is awesome and Mick has the build, and more importantly the mentality to play the game. And as Eric Bana so eloquently asserts AFL is a game than can be played by both big and little f***ers, of which Mick Cronin is definitely in the later category.  

Sorry for the profanity, I am one of those people that likes to use f*** as a comma

Thanks, Matt!