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January 7, 2013

Preview: ND @ Cincinnati

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Head coach: Mick Cronin - 10th year as head coach (195-114): 69-24 in three years at Murray State; 126-90 in seventh year at Cincinnati. Led Bearcats to the Sweet 16 in 2011-12.

You should know: The Cincinnati athletic administration agreed to move the tip-off from 7:00 to 6:30 to accommodate Notre Dame and its fans, who will be anxiously awaiting the start of the BCS National Championship Game between the Irish and Alabama…The Bearcats rank second nationally in rebounding at 45.3 per game. Six players have at least 22 offensive rebounds (243 total). The Cincinnati roster includes players from three countries, including Senegal and Sudan, and nine U.S. States…Eleven players average at least 11 minutes playing time per game…Cincinnati's No. 8 ranking, prior to a 55-54 loss to New Mexico on Dec. 27, was the Bearcats' highest in nine seasons. Their 12-0 start was its second in three seasons…Cincinnati has, however, lost two of its last three, both by a point. In addition to the setback to New Mexico, the Bearcats lost this past Saturday at home, 53-52, to St. John's…Cincinnati set a single-game school record with 23 steals in an early-December victory over Arkansas-Little Rock…Notre Dame has lost three in a row to the Bearcats in Cincinnati, including a 71-55 setback on Jan. 4, 2012…Cincinnati's annual game against Xavier, which resulted in a 60-45 Bearcat victory, is now called the Crosstown Classic - not the Crosstown Shootout - after last year's clash was marred by a late-game brawl.

Top losses: Dion Dixon (13.0 ppg., 3.4 rpg.), Yancey Gates (12.2 ppg., 8.9 rpg., 98 offensive rebounds)

Top players: Mick Cronin features his typically deep team with nearly a dozen players playing a prominent role for the Bearcats. They're led by 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore Sean Kilpatrick, who is averaging 17.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Kilpatrick is a stat sheet stuffer with 24 steals (second on the team) and 34 three-pointers (also second). He scored 25 points in Cincinnati's 60-45 victory over Xavier and 23 in a 92-60 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Cashmere Wright, a 6-foot-0 senior, runs the Cincinnati offense and is the team's second-leading scorer at 14.9. Not only does he lead the team in assists (3.3 per game), but also three-pointers (42-of-91) while shooting an impressive .462 from beyond the arc with a team-high 32 steals. He hit six three-pointers against Maryland-Eastern Shore and had 23 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday's loss to St. John's. His fadeaway jumper at the buzzer on Dec. 1 was the game-winner in the 58-56 win over Alabama.

JaQuon Parker, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound senior, is the third Bearcat in double-figure scoring at 11.3 per game. He also has a 4.7 rebounding average while connecting on .391 of his three-point attempts (18-of-46). Despite his size, he is second on the team in offensive rebounds with 36, but is a liability at the free-throw line (.559, 33-of-59). Parker scored 21 points in Cincinnati's 68-58 victory over Wright State on Dec. 22.

Cheikh Mbodj, a 6-foot-10, 236-pound senior from Senegal, and Titus Rubles, a 6-foot-7, 207-pound senior, have helped compensate for the loss of big man Yancey Gates. Mbodj averages 5.1 points and 5.5 rebounds while leading the team in offensive boards (36) and blocked shots (35). Rubles averages 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, although he is shooting .371 from the field and has inexplicably taken 27 three-pointers, converting just four (.148). Rubles missed a jump shot with six seconds remaining in Saturday's one-point loss to St. John's.

Justin Jackson, a 6-foot-8, 213-pound junior, averages 4.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He is tied for second on the team in blocked shots with 19.

Four others average double-digit playing time: David Nyarsuk, a 7-foot-1, 230-pound junior (4.3 ppg., 3.5 rpg.) from the Sudan; Shaquille Thomas, a 6-foot-7, 187-pound freshman (3.6 ppg., 2.6 rpg.), Jermaine Sanders, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore (3.1 ppg., 2.3 rpg.) and Ge'Lawn Guyn, a 6-foot-2, 174-pound sophomore (2.4 ppg.).

Prister's take: The Irish caught a bad break when D'Angelo Harrison's jumper with 29 seconds remaining propelled St. John's to a 53-52 road victory over Cincinnati Saturday. That's two losses in a row by the Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena, which means Mick Cronin will be cracking the whip when the Irish hit the hardwood Monday night.

Cronin has done a very nice job at Cincinnati. The Bearcats advanced to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago, and with a deep and athletic bench, this is a tough venue for the Irish, where they have lost three straight. Cronin is a demanding, thorough head coach who coaxes the best out of his players/team. They crash the boards - 243 offensive rebounds through 15 games - and their length alters shots in the paint (seven blocks per game).

The Bearcats will launch it from anywhere on the court, which is reflected by their .429 shooting percentage. They can be very streaky from beyond the arc, even at home, which is a good sign for the Irish, who have defended the three-point shot well this year. Cincinnati also struggles at the free-throw line (.625).

Cincinnati misses 6-foot-9, 260-pound Yancey Gates. Cronin has plenty of big bodies to rotate in, and they have compensated statistically. But Gates generally was a stabilizing force inside for the Bearcats whereas players such as Cheikh Mbodj and David Nyarsuk are more role players who combine their talents in short spurts.

Not many Irish eyes will be on this one as Notre Dame nation prepares for the college football national championship game. Nor were they Saturday when Notre Dame carved out an impressive 93-74 victory over Seton Hall to claim its Big East opener. Cincinnati was kind enough to accommodate Notre Dame by moving the game up a half hour. The team will stay in Cincinnati Monday night and pull for their football brethren to bring home the crystal ball.

Look for Cronin to be stomping around courtside and squeezing out every bit of emotion he can from his Bearcats, who will desperately pursue a victory. Notre Dame should have the edge inside with Jack Cooley. But Cincinnati's depth, length, home-court advantage, and motivation to avoid falling below .500 in the conference prove to be too much.

Pointspread: Cincinnati by 4
Prister's Prediction: Cincinnati 71, Notre Dame 64
Prister's record: 13-1 straight up; 7-4 vs. points


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