Cincinnati draws Big Ten comparisons from Iowa basketball

The Bearcats are different than any team the Hawkeyes faced in the regular season, but Iowa’s faced teams with similar aspects.


Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Tyler Cook answers questions during the Iowa press conference at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, March 21, 2019. The Hawkeyes will compete against the Cincinnati Bearcats tomorrow in the NCAA Tournament.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Cincinnati’s defense kept opposing offenses scrambling throughout the regular season and into its conference tournament. The Bearcats held opponents to 62.2 points per game – 12th in the country – and limited offenses to just 40.6 percent shooting from the floor.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s offense slows down in comparison to its defense. The Bearcats’ 71.1 points per sit at 201st in the nation.

What Cincinnati does better than most teams on the offensive side of the ball, though, is rebound (431 offensive boards on the season).

Iowa has yet to face a team that works in all phases quite like Cincinnati does. The Hawkeyes have, though, played teams that are similar to the Bearcats in respective areas.

“They play at the pace of Wisconsin on offense, they have a hectic defense like Illinois, and they rebound like Michigan State,” Iowa forward Ryan Kriener said.

As far as the offensive comparison goes, the Bearcats and Badgers have nearly identical pace-of-play marks. According to Basketball Reference, Cincinnati finished 26 of its 34 games with a possession total (per 40 minutes) in the 60s. Wisconsin had 27 of its games fall into that category.

The Bearcats also average 71.7 points per game, and the Badgers score 69.1.

Unlike Wisconsin, Cincinnati makes a living in aggressive rebounding, and that’s where Kriener drew the Michigan State similarity. The Spartans lead the nation with 1,024 defensive rebounds and rank eight in total boards (1,390). The Bearcats’ total rebounding numbers (1,232) fall short, but their offensive boards outnumber the Spartans by 65.

“They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country,” Iowa forward Luka Garza said. “Every time a shot goes up, they’re crashing the glass. We really have to box out and out-rebound them. If we rebound well, it gives us a really good shot to win.”

Offensively, Iowa doesn’t rebound as well as Cincinnati; the Hawkeyes 343 offensive boards on the season (134th nationally). Iowa’s strength, however, lies in its scoring.

The Hawkeyes average 78.3 points per game, ranking in the nation’s top 50 programs. On Friday, the trick for Iowa will be cracking the vaunted Cincinnati defense.

“They kind of scramble the game, the way that they play defense, the way they match up – man, zone, whatever you want to call it,” forward Tyler Cook said. “It’s just different. The fun part is trying to figure out to dissect it.”

Iowa is 18-2 when scoring more than 75 points. Cincinnati has given up more than 75 points on just one occasion this season – an 85-69 loss to Houston on March 10.

Cincinnati allowed 35.1 percent of 3-pointers to fall, which ranks 228th in the nation. Iowa has shot better than that percent from 3-point range on 17 occasions this season.

And just as the Bearcats play at a slower pace, the Hawkeyes are complete opposites. Offensively, Iowa had 30 games in which it averaged better than 65 possessions per 40 minutes. Cincinnati had 16.

“Every game is like a puzzle,” Kriener said. “I’m actually kind of excited to see what pace it will be played… I think the game could be a really slow, really a slug-it-out, grind-it-out game. Or, it could be a really fast, up-and-down game.”