Through four conference games, both East Carolina and Cincinnati have gotten off to what could be considered average to below-average starts. Now the two teams will meet tonight in Cincinnati, and we’ll preview the game before going over which side I’ll be backing.
East Carolina has gotten off to a 10-7 start to the season but a 1-3 start to conference play. Over the last two weeks or so, their offensive play has disappeared at times, which led to their offensive efficiency rating to fall to 101.4 on KenPom, which ranks 196th in the country.
Sophomore Javon Small has led the Pirates in scoring and assists this season, but since December 28th, he has been struggling to produce the same level of scoring he had been. He scored ten or fewer points in the last four games, and his shooting percentage over the previous ten games has dropped to 32.1%. The Pirates have kept games relatively close during his shooting struggles, primarily because of their defense.
ECU is holding opponents to an average of 67.8 points per game and has yet to allow 70 or more points to be scored since December 11th. Cincinnati and their 108.1 offensive efficiency rating will certainly be challenging to limit on the offensive end. The fast-paced Bearcats are averaging the 13th most field goal attempts per game and 47th most three-point attempts per game, so they certainly do not get cheated on the offensive end.
The Bearcats will enter tonight off their second conference loss, a game in which they only managed to score 59 points. Their opponent was the first-place Houston Cougars, but shooting 35% from the field will not get the job done on most nights, regardless of the opponent.
Much like the Pirates, the Bearcats' leading scorer David Dejulius has also fallen into a slump since conference play began. Dejulius, who averages 14.9 points per game, has only managed to score six points in the Bearcats' last two conference games.
At the time of writing this, East Carolina can be found as +10.5 point underdogs, and I’ll be backing them as my best play for the game. ECU has covered as underdogs in the last three conference games they’ve played, and they are 6-1 ATS in their previous seven games.
ECU has an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the Bearcats' rebounding struggles, especially on the offensive end. The Pirates are 35th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, while Cincinnati ranks 154th in defensive rebounding percentage.
The second chance looks and the average of 24.9 three-point attempts per game have led the Pirates to finish 85% of their possessions with a shot at the rim or from three. Even with Javon Small struggling, if the Pirates can continue to end possessions this way, they should be able to hang tough with the Bearcats. The underdog is 9-3 ATS in the last 12 meetings between these two teams, and I think the Pirates can continue this trend, especially at the current number.
East Carolina (+10.5) would play to (+10) if that is the best available price.