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March 16, 2016

St. Joe’s-Cincy Preview: Hawks have to deal with Bearcats’ ‘bouncers’

Phil Martelli was sitting next to his good buddy Fran Dunphy at the Coaches vs. Cancer breakfast on Monday afternoon. As a member of the American Athletic Conference, Dunphy won’t hand over any detailed scouting reports to Martelli from the Owls’ two close wins over Cincinnati from the regular season.

Martelli knows this, so he only asked one quick question about the first-round opponent for St. Joe’s: Are they good?

“Yeah, they’re really good,” Dunphy said as Martelli scribbled into his little notebook (OK, not really).

For what it’s worth, Martelli received offers from Atlantic 10 schools that played Cincy (GW, VCU). He didn’t take anything from them, though. He believes that the Hawks’ size and style matches up better with Temple than those two conference foes, anyway.

So in his own time, what has Martelli found out about the Bearcats?

“I don’t go to clubs, but I would never ever sneak into clubs where these guys are going to be the bouncers,” Martelli said. “And they treat the basket like it’s a club. Unless you have the proper ID and cover charge, you ain’t getting in.”

I'll refrain from making a bad Road House joke here. The Bearcats come into the tourney at 22-10, and they suffered perhaps the toughest loss of Championship Week:

Mick Cronin’s team wins with defense (KenPom rank: 8), and their starting lineup goes 6’1” 6’4”, 6’8”, 6’8”, and 6’10”. Offensively, all five starters average about 10 points per game.

“Their size is incredible,” Martelli said. “Their matchup is different than any matchup that we’ve seen, because their coach is insistent on maximum effort every play. That’s exactly what he gets.”

Both teams are forced to make a cross-country flight, so geography shouldn’t play a major factor in the first-round matchup. The game will be played at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, but it’s the Hawks’ practice gym that is a house of horrors.

November 20th, 2014: Gonzaga 94, St. Joe’s 42. The game wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate.

That beatdown was the Hawks’ worst loss in school history. The Daily News' Dick Jerardi got some good quotes from Martelli about what Mark Few told him this week (tl;dr: Few is surprised the Hawks are this good). Besides freshmen Fresh Kimble and Checco Oliva, SJU’s entire rotation was part of that drubbing.

“I just hope I can get them all off the bus because the last time this group went into that arena and I looked up, it was 60 to 10,” Martelli said.

Game, announcers, etc.

No. 8 Saint Joseph's vs. No. 9 Cincinnati, 9:57 p.m. (approximately): truTV, Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude

Hear it from the opponent

Cronin is not happy with the clock operator after Jalen Adams’ miracle heave for UConn. From’s Tom Groeschen:

“I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about the conference right now, the office, that is,” Cronin said. “We try to be tough to beat, and when we make shots we’re really hard to beat. And when the clock starts on time, we’re really difficult to beat.”

What the numbers say

All stats from The numbers in parentheses are national ranks among 351 schools:

  St. Joe’s
112.9 (31)
107.7 (97)
99.2 (74)
93.1 (8)
71.3 (66)
65.8 (320)

This game presents a nice style clash. To beat the Hawks recently, teams needed to outscore them. To beat the Bearcats, you have to find a way to score on them. From a watchability standpoint, St. Joe’s wins this one hands down: Cincy wants to play in a slugfest, while the Hawks are looking for more free-flowing basketball.

St. Joe’s is elite at not turning the ball over, while Cincy (led by Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark) has the second-highest block rate in the country. Coincidentally, Oregon (who the winner will likely play) is fourth in that department. The Hawks are very good at shooting from inside the arc, while the Bearcats are elite at defending inside the arc.

St. Joe’s sprinkles in some zone, and I would expect to see it on Friday night. Cincy shoots 36.4 percent from deep.

Expert picks (or famous people)

Barack Obama: Cincy
Myron Medcalf, ESPN: St. Joe’s (he says they’ll beat Oregon)
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports: St. Joe’s
Chris Dobbertean, SB Nation: St. Joe’s
Sports Illustrated: 8 of 10 analysts pick St. Joe’s
John Feinstein, Washington Post: St. Joe’s
CBS Sports: 6 of 12 analysts picked St. Joe’s
KenPom: Cincy wins 55 percent of the tine

Who wins?

This one is a toss-up and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see it tied at something like 55-all on the last possession. The Hawks played their best basketball of the season in Brooklyn over the weekend, and I think they execute just a smidge better than the Bearcats: St. Joe’s 64, Cincy 62

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann