Cincinnati prepares for the long-awaited major non-conference home game at Fifth Third Arena as undefeated Alabama comes to town.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- If fans had wished for the Bearcats to play a major non-conference home game this season after not playing any last year, their wish is about to come true. The Bearcats will host Alabama at 3 p.m. Saturday at Fifth Third Arena, as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge.
Sean Kilpatrick called Alabama the best team they've faced this season in terms of speed and shooting capability. The Tide (6-0) are undefeated with wins against Villanova (77-55) and Oregon State (65-62).
"We know that they're a tough team and they're going to come in here trying to beat us, so we got to actually come with our A-game as well," Kilpatrick said.
Mick Cronin wasn't as quick to call them the best team they've faced, but had nothing but praise. The two teams have a similar style, in that they both thrive on excellent guard play.
That begins with Trevor Releford. The junior averages 18.6 points per game and can fill it up from deep. He's hit 55 percent from long range this year. Releford ranks No. 18 nationally in offensive rating by KenPom.
Also, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph both connect better than 45 percent of the time from 3-point range.
"Their main scorers are their guards," Cronin said. "They like to spread it out on offense."
Alabama also has the ability to play strong defense. Cronin made note of the fact they beat Villanova by 22 points earlier this season at Madison Square Garden, a place where Villanova is comfortable playing.
"Villanova's a team that scraps and they just out scrapped them," Cronin said. "And they really shut down Villanova defensively. That was probably something that surprised people, the way they were able to defend Villanova."
Although his team matches up well with Alabama, Cronin still wants to avoid the "Las Vegas hangover." His goal, he says, is to help his players keep their focus and try to keep them from becoming complacent in their success winning the Global Sports Challenge. He saw the mentality and excitement needed to win in Las Vegas, even when the team played in front of crowds as small as 2,000 people.
"We've got to make sure that we maintain that edge and come out with that enthusiasm," Cronin said.
The tournament in Vegas proved a learning experience.
"[We] don't want to blow a lead, but to be able to handle another team physically coming at you because that's what they have to do to get back into the game," Cronin said. "We've got to do a better job getting ready for that in practice too."
Kilpatrick also took away learning experiences from Vegas that the team can use down the road and certainly against Alabama.
"You stick together through hard times and through droughts in a game and play defense and rebound, then you can stick out any game," he said.
Kilpatrick knows it will be a tough test against a scrappy team tomorrow afternoon, but he's looking at it as a tune-up for conference play.
"We know during the Big East conference that's when things get scrappy as well," he said.
But before they can get to Big East play, they have to face a team tomorrow who could be playing in the NCAA tournament. Does Cronin think Alabama is a team who will still be playing in March?
"Right now, they're really good, but right now is different from January," he said. "As long as they can continue to stay healthy at the guard position, they're probably a lock for the NCAA tournament."
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