Representing the eight and ninth seeds of the Midwest bracket, the 22-10 Cincinnati Bearcats take on the 21-12 Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue enters this matchup playing good basketball as they have won 6 out of their last 9 games. Two of those defeats came on the road to Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined 10 points. Cincinnati comes in winners of 5 of their last 6 games, with their only loss coming against Connecticut on a last second three pointer. They are led by interim Head Coach Larry Davis who took over on December 22 when long time head coach Mick Cronin suffered a seizure. Davis has gone 15-8 since.
Cincinnati has made 29 appearances in the NCAA tournament and this will be their 5th straight year in the big dance. They are a very deep team that has 10 players average at least 10 minutes of playing time per game. Their offense is led by 6 foot 10 inch Junior Octavius Ellis who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. He had a huge game in their win last week versus Penn State when he put up 19 points and 11 rebounds helping them advance in their conference tournament. Junior guard Farad Cobb is capable of putting up big scoring numbers as evidenced by his 22 points in a win over Tulsa on March 4th. The Bearcats possess a great defense that was ranked 6th this year and they have limited their opponents to 39 percent shooting and just over 55 points per game. They are 3-0 vs Purdue all time and have gone 15-13 against the spread this year.
Purdue is happy to be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Last year, they finished in last place in the Big Ten and their turnaround can be attributed to the outstanding play of 7 footer A.J. Hammons. Hammons is the team leader in both scoring and rebounding and is an above average defender. He has 95 out of the teams 173 blocks this year averaging 3 per game. Raphael Davis was the Big 10 defensive player of the year and has continuously shut down their opponent’s best player. The Boilermakers have 4 wins this year over tournament bound teams and had a 5 point half time lead over Wisconsin in the Conference Finals before losing in the second half. They are 19-9-2 against the spread this year.
Both teams play good defense and are ranked 13th and 14th nationally in blocked shots. They have struggled at times this year scoring ball and this should be a low scoring affair. Cincinnati has lost in the first round the last 2 years and Purdue hasn’t been eliminated in the first round of the tournament in their last 14 trips going back to 1998. The battle to watch is between A.J. Hammons and Octavius Ellis and the winner of this game could be determined by who plays better between those two.
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