Even though the Bearcats lost to Pittsburgh Wednesday night, they clinched a berth in the Big East Tournament when St. John's lost to Georgetown. Now, the Bearcats need to improve their seeding, and at the same time, keep pushing toward a possible NCAA Tournament bid. Difficult task? Absolutely. Impossible? Not at all.
In order to keep any faint hopes alive, the 'Cats are going to have to take care of business against teams they should beat. First up, the Providence Friars (13-14, 4-11), who come in losers of five straight, and nine of their last ten, games. While this team is in a miserable slide, they are still in a fight to make the Big East Tournament in New York. As it stands right now, they're on the outside looking in, but a win at Cincinnati would be a big boost.
The Friars are a guard-oriented team with some good weapons in the backcourt. Jeff Xavier and Brian McKenzie are the focal point of the offense averaging 12.1 and 11.1 points respectively. Since the absence of Dwain Williams, who has a severely sprained ankle and has missed the last two games, Xavier and McKenzie have had to pick up their games. Between the two, they have hoisted 301 three-point shots on the year and have connected on 116 for a very respectable .390 rate. The biggest problem with these two players is they don't necessarily set up their teammates well – they combine for 4.5 assists per game.
Wing Weyinmi Efejuku is the third guard in the lineup who can provide a scoring punch. The 6-5 junior is scoring 11 points per game and often is able to draw enough contact to get to the free throw line – his 104 attempts ranks second on the team to Geoff McDermott. Efejuku scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in the Friars' 71-70 win over UC last year.
Geoff McDermott gives the Friars a fourth double-digit scorer at 10.3 per game. McDermott is also the only player averaging over four rebounds per game at 8.0. Additionally, his 4.5 assists per game are team-high and had two games with at least 10 assists, which for a guy his size is pretty impressive.
As stated before, he's also the leading free throw shooter on the team with 116 attempts, but he's only connecting at a rate of .629 on the season. Last year against the Bearcats, McDermott scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
6-11 junior center Randall Hanke only averages 17.2 minutes per game, but still manages 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. The Bearcats will need to watch Hanke on the offensive glass – nearly half of his rebounds are offensive.
Jonathan Kale and Jamine Peterson are the two key reserves at forward. The 6-8 Kale, a junior, scores 5.2 points and collects 3.0 rebounds per game in 14.5 minutes. The 6-6 Peterson, a freshman, only gets a bit over 10 minutes, but adds 4.5 points and 2.8 rebounds. Both are talented but inconsistent. Kale has scored as many as 16 points against Syracuse, but has been held scoreless in four games, and in his last three games has just four points. Peterson has really fallen off since the beginning of the season when he scored double-figures in six games. Lately, he's struggled and has been held scoreless in three of his last five games.
The only reserve in the backcourt is 6-5 freshman Marshon Brooks, who in 6.5 minutes scores just 2.5 points. With Xavier, McKenzie, and Efejuku manning the backcourt, Brooks doesn't get much time and isn't much of an offensive threat.
In their only matchup last year, the Bearcats blew an eight-point lead in the final 1:41, succumbing to the Friars 71-70 in a heartbreaker.
No doubt the Bearcats haven't forgotten the taste in their mouths after that one, and they'll look to return the favor Sunday at Fifth Third Arena.
In order for that to happen, not only will they need John Williamson to continue his hot play, but they will need another source of offense to step forward. As we saw Wednesday in Pittsburgh, as well as John and Deonta played, the Bearcats need more than just two scorers.