Close-to-Home Cincinnati Poses Stiff Challenge for Hawkeyes

March 19, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The top story on Cincinnati’s official website Tuesday morning was encouraging fans to buy tickets for its first-round NCAA Tournament game. Clicking on the link revealed a high demand for them. Anything below the nosebleed level was listed at $200 apiece and up.

Bearcat fans from the Queen City need only travel a shade more than 100 miles to watch them in Columbus. Conversely, their opponent, Iowa, will be playing more than 500 miles from home.

The Hawkeyes never are alone. They’ll be well represented as was the case during their last two NCAA Tournament appearances in Seattle and Brooklyn. However, they’ll be outnumbered significantly on Friday (11:15 a.m. CT, CBS).

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his players downplayed the advantage for the Bearcats when the pairing was announced Sunday. It seemed to be a compromise from the NCAA selection committee for them being a seventh seed despite winning American Athletic Conference tournament and finishing second in the regular season. Those factors along with 28-6 record and No. 25 NET ranking justified a higher seed.

Cincinnati enjoys an advantage in experience. The Bearcats will be making their ninth consecutive trip to the Big Dance. Fifth-year senior Nicholas Baer is the only Hawkeye to play in this event.

Cincinnati has won 89 games since the start of the 2016-17 season, the third-most in the nation behind only Gonzaga (99) and Villanova (93). Five of its six losses this season came to teams in the NCAA Tournament.

“This is a team that will prepare well for us as we will for them,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We’ve got to be able to deal with their defensive intensity and pressure, and we have to play the kind of defense that we have shown. At times, we haven’t been as good; much better this year than we were last. You want to win this time of year, you’ve got play defense.”

The Bearcats rank 28th nationally in Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Iowa (22-11) sits at 115th after finishing 242nd a year ago.

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The Hawkeyes check in at 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Cincinnati shows up at 46th.

The teams come in having played differently down the stretch of the season. Iowa is losers of five of its last six games. The Bearcats are winners of eight of their last 10 contests.

Cincinnati is led by AAC Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior paces the team in points (18.8 PPG) and assists (3.6 APG), while also contributing 4.5 rebounds.

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McCaffery recruited him out of Wilmington (OH) High. He chose the Bearcats ahead of scholarship offers from Florida State, Purdue, Xavier and others.

The Hawkeyes are 2-6 all-time against Cincinnati. That includes a 76-64 loss in the first-round of the ’05 NCAA Tournament. The schools are scheduled to meet again at Chicago’s United Center on Dec. 21 next season as part of a doubleheader with Dayton and Colorado in the other contest.

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Along with the location, the Bearcats have history on their side. While the 7-10 matchup produces plenty of upsets, 10 seeds own a 52-84 record against 7 seeds since the NCAA tournament field expanded in ’85, a .382 winning percentage. By comparison, eleven seeds hold a .375 winning percentage against 6 seeds during that time.

Ten seeds went 2-2 against the sevens last season. Nevada and Butler won as the lower seeds.

Iowa can’t and shouldn’t be concerned with history. The Hawkeyes will be focused on returning to midseason form that saw them win 20 of their first 25 games, which had them in the Top 20 of the national rankings. A four-game winning streak in early to mid-February includes a 15-point victory against Michigan, a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“We know what we can do when we play like we’re capable of playing and we’ve shown that at various times of the year,” Iowa center Luka Garza said. “We’ve done a lot of good stuff this year and we want to continue it. If we play the way we’re capable of, we have the confidence we can beat anybody in the country.”

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