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Cinci Preview: Mick Cronin "Coach of the Year?"

WVU moves into its final 12 regular season games Saturday against Cincinnati at the Coliseum. The Bearcats are red hot, having gone 10-1 in their last 11 games – including wins over 3 ranked teams in the process. If they come into Morgantown and beat the Mountaineers, they’ll be a certain Top 25 team next week.

Out of necessity after their early season dustup with Xavier, Mick Cronin has gone to a smaller line up that is oriented toward fast breaking and shooting from the outside. And it’s working. Cincinnati is as surprised to be 15-4 and in second place in the Big East as we are to be 14-5 and right on their heels. So impressed is Dick Vitale with Cronin’s coaching performance this year that he has listed him among his leaders for national Coach of the Year honors.

Aside from playing at home and having our own potential national award winner (Kevin Jones), three things are going WVU’s way in this game: (1) Rebounding; (2) Defense; & (3) Syracuse. First, we will out-rebound Cinci and defensively take them out of their game plan. No one prepares for a unique opponent better than Huggs, so look for really tight man-to-man defense that forces their perimeter shooters to score on the move.

Regarding WVU's rebounding edge, Kevin Noreen has really stepped up his game and ably stepped in for Kilicli against Marshall. Huggins was quoted as saying about Noreen, "He gives us some things that, quite frankly, Deniz doesn't give us. He passes the ball and he keeps the ball moving for us." CBS sports reported that Kilicli’s status for Saturday’s game was unclear. Against this smaller Cinci team, it may not matter.

The final thing in our favor is that the Bearcats know that after they play WVU they'll be facing off at home Tuesday night against undefeated Syracuse. It is difficult to imagine that their kids (who are playing out of their skulls and unexpectedly slaying the giants) aren’t struggling to stay focused on the task at hand. Especially with prime time, Tuesday night ESPN glory on the horizon.

Saturday's game tips at 3 pm EST and can be seen on ESPNU.