Robert Morris (0-1) at Cincinnati (1-0)
Where: Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio
When: Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m.
KenPom: Robert Morris 198, Cincinnati 12
KenPom Line: Cincinnati -17
Link: ESPN3.com, Watch ESPN app, ESPN Radio 970 (local)
Storyline: Robert Morris looks to bounce back from a tough loss Friday, but standing in their way is the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats are one of the top teams in the country, just a year removed from winning a game in the NCAA tournament.
Getting to know the Bearcats: Last season, Cincinnati beat Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Their reward? A date with Kentucky in the round of 32. They lost that game by 13 but enter this season looking to set the bar even higher. Cinncy was picked to finish third in the AAC preseason coaches poll, just behind UCONN and SMU.
Many believe Mark Cronin’s squad has the talent to make a run. Cincinnati is bringing back a ton of minutes from last season’s team, led by center Octavius Ellis. Ellis is a complete beast, regarded as one of the best shot blockers (2.0 bpg last season) and rebounders in the country. His 6-foot-10 frame helped him lead the team in scoring at 9.9 ppg.
The forward next to Ellis is a battering ram too. Sophomore Gary Clark averaged 7.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season. If that duo can mature offensively the way many think they will, look out.
The backcourt isn’t full of a bunch of slackers either. Point guard Troy Caupain does a little bit of everything. He averaged 3.6 apg last year while shooting 40.8 percent from downtown. He’s joined by Farad Cobb and Kevin Johnson, who are decent shooting guards from three.
Jacobs Evans III is the freshman of Cinncy’s recruiting class. At 6-foot-6, he can play four different positions. He can act as a stretch four in small lineups but was a point guard in high school before hitting a growth spurt. Evans III is regarded as a really, really good shooter. He played 22 minutes and scored seven points in their 97-72 opening win against Western Carolina.
Those 97 points would be welcoming to a program that needs just a little more to make the jump. Cincinnati is defined by their defense, and for good reason: they were 14th in points per possession allowed last season.
It’s not that UC has a bad offense, it just isn’t in that top-tier. They didn’t have one player average double figures in scoring. They ranked 230 in team three point shooting percentage. They ranked 300 in offensive turnover percentage. They just need to find that one go-to guy.
To say this will be a tough game for RMU would be an understatement. UC is a big, physically intimidating team.
Stringing together stops: RMU’s defense left a lot to be desired against Penn Friday. There were moments where the Colonials surrounded the ball and made things a living hell for Penn. Then there were times the Quakers moved the ball with crisp passes and caught RMU napping in their 2-3 zone defense.
A big factor in the game, literally and figuratively, was Elijah Minnie. Minnie was off the court with foul trouble when Penn used a 29-13 run to open up a huge lead. He was on the court when RMU used a 20-4 run to make a second half comeback.
Minnie is going to be the guy teams will have to try and find an answer for. Can he pull Clark away from the basket? If he does, can RMU attack Ellis and maybe get him into foul trouble? Can Minnie and the other bigs stay out of foul trouble? Winning that battle is one of the only ways RMU will stand even a slight chance at victory.
Sizzling: RMU guard Rodney Pryor was spectacular Friday. He had a game-high 28 points on 12-18 shooting. there’s no doubt in my mind Pryor will be every bit as good as anyone else on the floor Sunday. We talk about how RMU has to have an answer for this and that, but teams will have to find a way to stop Pryor.
UC will likely pay a lot of attention to Pryor. How will others respond? Can Matty McConnell hit some shots from deep? Can Kavon Stewart bounce back from rough game one?
Squad deep: RMU’s depth will certainly be tested, which is a good thing this early into the season. However, the bench will have to give more than what it did game one. As Chris Mueller pointed out in his observation piece, Isaiah Still, Steven Whitley and Billy Giles contributed a total of three points and five rebounds.
They’ll grow up quick Sunday.
Outlook: Mostly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms. Cincinnati is a really, really good team. They’re size is going to be a problem. Their defense is as good as it gets. It would surprise a lot of people if RMU could even keep this to single digits.