UC: Memphis could get surprise
BY BILL KOCH | BKOCH@ENQUIRER.COM
MEMPHIS - University of Cincinnati basketball coach Mick Cronin told his Bearcats that many teams would view this season as a chance to register a victory over a UC program that has beaten up on them over the years.
Already, Alabama-Birmingham took its shot and won. So did Ohio. Now it's Memphis' turn.
"I've watched Cincinnati beat a lot of teams," said UC guard Jamual Warren, "especially Memphis. They've been going at it and Memphis does not like Cincinnati. I know that for a fact. They think we're soft right now and they're going to sneak a couple of wins, but we ain't laying down. I know that."
The Bearcats (9-4) take on No. 22 Memphis (10-3) today at the FedExForum.
It's the renewal of a rivalry that has extended through four leagues before UC left Conference USA for the Big East Conference last year. The Bearcats own a 36-28 advantage and have won 20 of the past 28 meetings between the two schools.
But the Tigers beat UC by 10 points last season at Fifth Third Arena and are expected to win rather handily again against a Bearcats team loaded with first-year players.
This will be UC's first true road game of the season. The Bearcats have played three games away from Cincinnati on neutral courts - winning one and losing two - but have yet to play in front of a hostile crowd.
"It'll be interesting," Cronin said, "because Cincinnati has not always been the favorite team to Memphis fans. That's Coach (Bob) Huggins' fault. He won a lot of games down there. I told the guys nobody thinks we can win but us."
Unlike the Bearcats, the Tigers are extremely deep, with 10 players averaging 10 minutes or more per game and no player logging more than 28 minutes per game. Their three losses were to Georgia Tech 92-85 in Maui; at Tennessee 76-58; and at Arizona 79-71. They're 8-0 at home.
Led by guard Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.8 average points per game), Memphis averages 82.0 points per game. The Tigers will run at every opportunity and will attack the basket relentlessly. They also pound the boards, averaging 5.7 more rebounds per game than their opponents.
"They're really good at driving to the basket," said UC center Marcus Sikes. "In the past few days we've just been working on defense so we don't allow that."
Memphis also has a formidable low-post presence in 6-foot-9, 265-pound Joey Dorsey, who averages 9.4 rebounds per game.
"We've got to take care of the basketball, limit their transition baskets and try to keep them to one shot and out," Cronin said. "We've got to keep the kid Dorsey off the glass."
It all adds up to a another hefty challenge for UC and a preview of what awaits when Big East play begins Sunday at Fifth Third Arena against Rutgers.
But the UC players say they're looking forward to it.
Warren is especially eager to play this game. Not only does he like playing on the road, he grew up in Springfield, Mass., and followed Massachusetts when Memphis coach John Calipari was the coach there.
"We're going to try to put the pressure on them," Warren said, "bring it to them at their own home. Come on, that's Calipari. I'm not coaching against him, but to beat one of his teams, why not? He was the coach at UMass. That would be good."
Memphis fans feel the same way about beating UC. They gladly will take any opportunity to win a game over the hated Bearcats, regardless of the circumstances.
"Everybody we play against this year is going to think this is the year to beat Cincinnati," Cronin said. "That's a direct disrespect to me as a first-year coach and to them as mostly first-year players. You have to take it that way. You have to use it as motivation."