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BYU vs Cincinnati Preview: Cougars Favored in Big 12 Opener

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Wyoming v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

BYU and Cincinnati make their Big 12 men’s basketball conference debut when they face off Saturday night at 8pm MT in the Marriott Center. As of this writing the betting spread is BYU favored somewhere between 9 to 10.5 points, depending where you look.

Cincinnati comes to Provo as one of the nation’s best rebounding teams with a big frontline. I see some similarities to them and Utah, although they don’t have a big as skilled and versatile as Branden Carlson. The Bearcats, like BYU, start two 6-foot-11 players and could play 7-footer Aziz Bandago depending on his recovery from a back injury. The Bearcats are #7 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and #1 nationally in defensive, so the rebounding battle will be one of the key factors for two teams that rely heavily on offensive rebounds.

BYU and Cincinnati by the Numbers

BYU KenPom: 4


Best Wins: San Diego State (H), NC State (N), Arizona State (N)

Loss: Utah (A)

Cincinnati KenPom: 40

Cincinnati NET: 37

Best Win: Georgia Tech (H)

Losses: Xavier (A), Dayton, (N) — UC is 0-2 versus top 100 teams

KenPom Prediction: BYU 81, UC 70 — BYU 84% win probability

Cincinnati Players to Watch

Victor Lahkin, Forward/Center — The 6-foot-11, 240-pounds big man leads the Bearcats with averages of 13.6 points, 8.5 boards, and 1 block — all tops on the team. Lahkin had only shot 11 threes during his first two seasons, but is 10-33 (30%) this season.

Day Day Thomas, Guard — Thomas is the starting point guard is second averaging 11.4 points per game. The 6-footer is can get to the rim but shoots just 28% from deep despite being third on the team in three-point attempts.

Simas Lukosius, Guard/Forward — The Butler transfer took an official visit to BYU before ultimately choosing the Bearcats. If CJ Fredrick can’t go (more on that later), Lukosius is by far the biggest three-point threat on the team, shooting 42% from deep. Lukosius shoots a majority of his shots from distance by can be creative with the ball in his hands.

Dan Skillings, Guard/Forward — The Bearcats sixth man averages 11 points per game and averages 6.6 rebounds per game from his wing spot. Skillings is most effective inside the arc and is shooting 28% from deep.

Jamillie Reynolds, Center — If Aziz is limited or can’t go, the 6-foot-11, 275 pounds big man will likely get the start. Reynolds has only played in 4 games after recently being ruled eligible and adds to the beef inside for the Bearcats.

Injuries to watch

Aziz Bandaogo, Center — The 7-foot transfer from UVU has only played in 6 games after receiving a waiver to play last month. He didn’t play in Cincinnati’s last game as he recovers from a back issue, but he has been practicing this week. If Aziz can go, he gives the Bearcats an elite rim protector and rim runner.

CJ Fredrick, Guard — The former Iowa and Kentucky sharpshooter appears doubtful as he recovers from a hamstring issue. One of the best catch-and-shoot guys in the country, Fredrick averages 7.5 points per game and shoots 44% from distance

Matchups and Storylines to Watch

  • BYU vs Cincinnati Frontcourt: It’s not a surety yet and I likely won’t be able to confirm until tomorrow, but I expect Fousseyni Traore to play for the first time since November 24 as he works his way back from a hamstring/knee injury. I expect his minutes would be somewhere in the 10-12 range and no more than 15. If Bandaogo is healthy, UC has a really talented and big frontcourt that will cause BYU some issues. Having Fouss back would help, but UC would cause BYU some problems with their size. I think the biggest potential mismatch is when BYU is on offense. UC’s three bigs thrive in the paint but can be exposed a bit on the perimeter. This could be a big Aly Khalifa and Noah Waterman game. I don’t think any of UC’s bigs will be particularly effective chasing Noah around the 3-point line and accounting for cuts to the basket. Aly Khalifa at the 5 allows BYU to go 5 out and will clear out the paint and allow Noah to roam around, which UC could struggle to do when they play two bigs. If UC struggles defending Waterman, I think BYU wins by double digits.
  • The Battle on the boards: I alluded to this before, but both teams rely on offensive rebounding as a big part of their strategy. If Cincinnati is to pull the upset they have to do at least two of three things: 1) Limit BYU’s three-point makes, 2) Limit BYU’s offensive rebound percentage, or 3) Force turnovers. UC is 261st in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, so they will likely need to focus on the first two things. If BYU rebounds like they have all season, they have the offensive firepower to eventually take advantage and score points. If Cincinnati can limit BYU on the offensive glass they should keep the game close.

Outlook and Prediction

Cincinnati is a really good team and could absolutely pull the upset, but I think BYU wins for a couple reasons. Cincinnati has one of the Big 12’s best frontlines when healthy and capable guards, but their guards don’t scare me as much as most other Big 12 teams. In BYU’s 3 most competitive games this season, they struggled most with the following personnel: 1) Guards that can pressure you and turn you over. NC State and SDSU did this well in different ways; I don’t see this as a strength for UC. 2) Skilled big man that can play on the perimeter and high-low action with another big. Utah had this with Branden Carlson and their front line, but Cincinnati doesn’t have a big with the perimeter skill set like Carlson.

UC will have their fair share of paint points and rebounds which should make for a competitive matchup, but I think defensively they are exposed a bit when they play their two bigs and don’t have the guards to overwhelm BYU athletically like BYU will see versus other teams in the league. If Fouss can give 10-15 minutes, BYU won’t be overwhelmed by the size and girth of UC’s frontline and should have more advantages to exploit than UC can. The Marriott Center will be rocking for this one versus a UC team that has struggled in their two road games.

Prediction: BYU 84, Cincinnati 72