(6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Missouri
Few teams in this year’s field are as difficult to score against as the Cincinnati Bearcats. They possess one of the nation’s best defenses, limiting teams to 58 points a night on 43% shooting from the field and 40% from deep. As good as they are defensively, they’re almost as bad offensively. They only score 69 points a night, led by the 11 points of center Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon. They sorely miss the explosive scoring ability of now Indiana Pacers rookie Lance Stephenson. Gates’ contemplated leaving with him and has only improved marginally in his junior year. He needs to dominate like he’s capable of in order for the Bearcats to survive longer than the first two rounds. Eventually they’re going to run into a team that has the answer for their stifling defense and that could be when we see them bow out.
Coach Mike Anderson’s Missouri team has earned an NCAA Tournament bid for the third consecutive season, but the Tigers come into the Big Dance losers of four of their last five contests. Missouri loves to play at a fast pace, forcing the action with their pressure defense. This team leads the country in steals (9.8 per game) and turns those extra offensive possessions into points, scoring more than 81 points per game. The Tigers have a deep bench with ten players on the roster playing at least nine minutes per contest. Junior Marcus Denmon leads the team in scoring, at 17.1 per game, and has been hot recently, averaging 20 points per game in his last eight contests. The 6-3 guard has shot a blistering .455 from behind the three-point line this season and hit more than 50 percent of his field goals. This is anything but a one-man show, however, with five Tigers averaging at least ten points per game.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Missouri. Cincinnati is certainly battle-tested, but so are the Tigers, who will press the Bearcats and force the tempo, running Cincinnati out of the post-season.