While tonight's game between #4 Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) and Cincinnati (15-5, 5-2) may have lost a little luster from a national standpoint with both teams falling on the road Saturday, that shouldn't take away from the importance of Monday to Mick Cronin's Bearcats. The computer numbers are still a bit low although the Bearcats would most likely be a tournament team if the season ended today, so a win over a Top 5 opponent would be a nice line to add to the resume. While the absence of Syracuse center Fab Melo won't make things easier for Cincinnati it does change the dynamic in the paint.
Without Melo on Saturday at Notre Dame the Orange were out-rebounded by 13 (38-25), and the extra possessions that came as a result of the Fighting Irish's work on the offensive glass put Syracuse in a hole they couldn't climb out of. Yancy Gates (12.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg) leads the way for the Bearcats with an average of 3.1 offensive rebounds per game and they've got some guards who have also been good in this area, meaning that Cincinnati has the tools to take advantage of Syracuse allowing opponents to corral 38% of their missed shots.
C.J. Fair (8.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg), who moved into the starting lineup as a result of Melo's absence, is one of Syracuse's best reserves but he didn't have his best game on Saturday. But the same can be said of senior wing Kris Joseph (13.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg), and these two have to chip in on the glass with the Orange relying on the slender Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita in the middle for the time being. As mentioned earlier the Bearcats have guards who do a good job on the offensive boards, including one in Jaquon Parker (9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) who was thrust into the power forward position due to the loss of two key bigs (Gates and Cheikh Mbodj) following the Xavier game.
Those guards can also score, with Sean Kilpatrick (16.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Dion Dixon (13.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) leading the way while Cashmere Wright (10.8 ppg, 4.8 apg) runs the show. Add in Parker and freshman Jeremiah Davis and there's a good reason why the Bearcats now score 34% of their points from beyond the arc, as the suspensions resulted in Cronin and his staff giving the perimeter guys more freedom to make things happen. Gates has fit in well since his return despite the drop in post touches, and defensive stalwart Justin Jackson has also been valuable in his role.
Syracuse's guards have played well for much of the season but starters Scoop Jardine (8.3 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Brandon Triche (9.8 ppg, 2.9 apg) can still have those moments where they struggle with decision-making (Jardine) or drift out of the action (Triche). That happened on Saturday in South Bend and was one reason why Notre Dame was able to lead by as many as 18 points in the first half. Dion Waiters (13.0 ppg, 2.7 apg) has been one of the Big East's best players this season, and he's a tough matchup due to both his athleticism and improved skill set. How Syracuse controls their defensive glass will go a long way in determining the outcome, but the guard play won't be far behind.
Also of note tonight is Texas A&M making what is likely their final trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse for a long time to take on #5 Kansas, and with Khris Middleton banged up this could get out of hand. Thomas Robinson is one of the best players in the country and Tyshawn Taylor has played well of late at the point, giving the Jayhawks a decided advantage in that area as well. Keep an eye on Belmont's trip to East Tennessee State as the Bruins are now tied for first in the A-Sun with Belmont and the Bucs are one of three teams just a game back (the other two teams, Lipscomb and USC Upstate, meet tonight). And in the SWAC the top two teams meet as Mississippi Valley State visits Texas Southern in a game that features MVSU center Paul Crosby and Texas Southern guard Omar Strong.
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (4) Syracuse at Cincinnati (ESPN)
9:00 PM Texas A&M at (5) Kansas (ESPN)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Towson at Delaware (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Citadel at Georgia Southern
7:00 PM Northeastern at Old Dominion (ESPN3)
7:00 PM North Florida at Kennesaw State
7:00 PM North Carolina A&T at Coppin State (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Belmont at East Tennessee State
7:00 PM James Madison at Georgia State
7:00 PM Jacksonville at Mercer
7:00 PM Stetson at Savannah State
7:00 PM Iona at Siena (TWC)
7:00 PM Hofstra at VCU (TCN)
7:00 PM Drexel at William & Mary
7:00 PM Brown at Bryant
7:00 PM Lipscomb at USC Upstate
7:30 PM Florida A&M at Delaware State
7:30 PM Bethune-Cookman at Maryland-Eastern Shore
7:30 PM North Carolina Central at Morgan State
8:00 PM Alabama A&M at Alcorn State
8:30 PM Alabama State at Southern
9:00 PM UNC Wilmington at George Mason (MASN)
9:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Prairie View A&M (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Mississippi Valley State at Texas Southern
10:00 PM Cal State Bakersfield at San Jose State
10:00 PM Loyola Marymount at Santa Clara