For years, invitational tournaments have been a staple of non-conference play in the world of college basketball. They give teams a chance to strengthen their resumé and allow fans to see their team play other big name programs before conference play starts.
The Bearcats have fared relatively well in the past while participating in tournaments, winning the Cayman Islands Classic in 2017, the Barclays Center Classic in 2015, and the Global Sports Classic in 2012. While the Cayman Islands Classic’s competition wasn’t exactly up to par, this season was a step in the right direction with the Cats playing in the Emerald Coast Classic. On Friday at 7 p.m. EST, the Bearcats face off against George Mason, a team hailing from the Atlantic-10 Conference.
George Mason sits at 2-3 coming into Friday’s game with wins over Southern and North Carolina Central. The Patriots are a pretty middle of the road team, sitting at 102nd in Division 1 in points per game (76.4) and 209th in points per game given up (75.2). Analytically, KenPom.com ranks them at 149th in the nation, 132nd offensively, and 172nd defensively.
The Patriots have had a pretty even contribution from a few different players thus far with four players averaging over 10 points per game, but the backcourt is where George Mason seems to shine the brightest. Junior Justin Krier leads the Patriots in scoring with 12.2 points per game while leading the team in minutes with 32.2 per game. Alongside, 5’11” senior Otis Livingston II will provide some balance by throwing in a team leading 6.0 assists per game, playing a role similar to Justin Jenifer’s. You can also expect to see sharpshooter Jaire Grayer take the court throughout the game, shooting at a 46.4% point clip from three this season.
If the Bearcats can get by George Mason, they will play either Ole Miss or Baylor in the championship game at 6 p.m. EST on Saturday. Baylor comes in at 3-1, with their lone loss coming to Texas Southern in a disappointing season opener, while Ole Miss sits at 2-1 with a loss at Butler.
Both of these teams are pretty similar statistically, with only 0.1 separating the two in points per game with Baylor at 80.2 and Ole Miss at 80.3. Defensively, Baylor clocks in ahead at 64.8 points per game given up and Ole Miss at 67.3. On the analytical side of things, KenPom.com gives Baylor a pretty significant edge, ranking the Bears at 51st and the Rebels at 75th.
If Baylor ends up beating Ole Miss, the Bearcats would be facing off against another team with a balanced scoring attack, with four players averaging over 11 points per game. In the first four contests of the season, junior guard Devonte Bandoo leads the team with 14.5 points a game, shooting at a 57.1% rate. Another key player the Cats would need to stop in order to win this game would be Tristan Clark, a 6’9” sophomore forward averaging 13.6 points a game at an outrageous 82.1% shooting percentage, while also adding 5.3 rebounds a game for good measure.
If Ole Miss can take care of the Bears, Cincinnati would be tasked at taking care of star guard, Terrance Davis. In his first three games of the season, the senior has averaged 20.3 points per game with a shooting split of .525/.588/.750. In their loss against Butler, the Rebels played a pretty good game overall, but free throws were a big time killer, shooting only 13-21 as a team on the night. If the Bearcats end up playing Ole Miss, controlling the pace and locking down Terrance Davis will be key to winning this game.
While this Cincinnati team has had their ups and downs throughout the season, it feels like they should take care of George Mason to begin the tournament. Whether or not Ole Miss or Baylor wins, the Cats will need to play their A-game to win a non-conference tournament in their second consecutive season. Overall, the Emerald Coast Classic should be a great opportunity for the Bearcats to record a signature win or two, while also helping to work out a few kinks before the meat of the non-conference schedule comes along in the weeks ahead.