Guard Devin Mitchell: “I’m pretty sure they’re going to try to run us off the (3-point) line. But I’m sure we’ll be able to get our shots off.”
There’s no reason to believe the Panthers will make 50 percent of their shots Friday. Only Wichita State and Cleveland State – the latter is coached by Dennis Felton, formerly of Georgia – did that this season. But Cincinnati isn’t apt to shoot well, either. The Bearcats won three games in the American tournament despite making only 42.1, 40.7 and 43.5 percent of their shots. But these were the shooting percentages of Georgia State’s opponents in the Sun Belt tournament – 31.1, 39.6 and 29.8. The Panthers didn’t trail in that event.
If there’s a knock on Georgia State, it’s that it has played only one team that made the NCAA field. The Panthers beat Montana 71-68 on Dec. 9. It played only one Power 5 opponent, losing to Ole Miss, which finished as the SEC’s worst team, in November. (The Panthers did beat Georgia Tech in an exhibition.) There’s no way to know if a mid-major can stand in against one of the big boys until it actually happens, but we have to ask: Exactly how big is Cincinnati?
This is the Bearcats’ eighth consecutive NCAA tournament. They’ve failed to advance beyond the first weekend in six of the previous seven. Even though they’re a No. 2 seed, they’re not expected to go far this time. ESPN polled 27 of its analysts: None had Cincinnati reaching the Final Four. (This program, which won championships in 1961 and 1962 and was denied by Loyola in overtime in 1963, has reached one Final Four since – under Bob Huggins in 1992.)
If you’re a No. 15, Cincinnati is the Round 1 opponent you’re hoping to get. It’s not to overwhelm you with talent. It’s not going to shoot the lights out. It has to beat you up to beat you, and these Panthers aren’t shrinking violets themselves. Don’t misunderstand: This would be a massive upset – only eight No. 2 seeds have ever been one-and-done – if it happens. But these Panthers do have a shot.