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December 13, 2012

Game 11: Cincinnati Preview

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Things can change in the blink of an eye in college sports.

As Marshall and No. 11 Cincinnati prepare for Saturday afternoon's matchup in Charleston, there are multiple storylines sprouting about each program.

The Herd (6-4) will be playing its first game without its best player. Junior DeAndre Kane's hand injury will force him out indefinitely. He had been playing the point guard position better than could be expected, leading the team with 15 points and 8.5 assists per game, the latter number good enough for second in the country.

Cincinnati (9-0), who only agreed to the matchup with the return game in Charleston rather than the Henderson Center, is watching the Big East Conference seemingly crumble around it. Thursday it was announced that the league's seven private schools planned to leave the league. The Bearcats have their eyes set on the ACC.

Mick Cronin, meanwhile, has Cincinnati off to a fantastic start. The Bearcats feature one of the top backcourts in the current Big East. Junior guard Sean Kilpatrick combines with seniors Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker to give Cincinnati quality and depth in the backcourt.

Marshall will counter with D. D. Scarver, who is scoring 14.8 points per game, and wing Elijah Pittman, who is scoring 14.2 points per game.

The problem comes in the point guard position. With Kareem Canty being deemed ineligible before the season by the NCAA, and Kane forced to play the point but no longer available, that leaves the burden to Chris Martin, Devince Boykins and Tamron Manning. The trio has scored a combined 55 points this season in 28.6 minutes of action per game. Martin has scored 52 of those points.

It's hard to imagine Cincinnati would not attempt to pressure Marshall's young, unproven guards.

While Cincinnati is 9-0, the Bearcats have had a largely light non-conference schedule. The best wins are Oregon, Iowa State and Alabama.

Ironically, while UC refused to play in Huntington, it has seemingly refused to play any road games this year. The Bearcats have played seven of their nine games at home, the other two being neutral site games, like Saturday's contest will be.

Regardless, they're good and the numbers bear that out. Kilpatrick averages 20 points per game, Wright 15 and Parker 11. That's a backcourt scoring 46 points per game. If that leads one to think the front court is weak, think again. The Bearcats are averaging +11.8 on the boards this year, a bigger differential than Marshall (+6.5).

Kilpatrick, who went to Notre Dame Prep, is also shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. He's quietly having one of the top seasons in all of college basketball.

The return of Robert Goff has to mean something for Marshall. Goff has been largely a non-factor this year. Dennis Tinnon must control the glass. He and Nigel Spikes remain over 9 rebounds per game.

After the Herd survived a poor performance in a home win against Coppin State last week, it had a full week off. Marshall must have taken advantage of that time to heal and prepare. The road is difficult from here.

Any ideas that Cincinnati will overlook Marshall are likely dispelled by the Herd's overtime victory over the Bearcats last November in Cincinnati. However it should be noted, any time a team plays without its best player, it must rely on everyone to step up. Generally in college athletics, that happens short term. The long-term effects tend to show why that player was so valuable, but for the first game, good teams rally around one another.

Marshall will need to rally together if it has any intentions on pulling the upset. A victory here could ignite a fan base that has just been smacked in the face with bad news over the past month. It would go a long way toward helping the fans regain confidence in the team, and the team needs a marquee victory heading into the home stretch before the beginning of conference play.

Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.

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