Bucs prep for Cincinnati

By Wes Holtsclaw

   JOHNSON CITY -- As optimistic as the East Tennessee State basketball team and several national media members are of an upset in Columbus Friday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bearcats have a match-up that may sink the Bucs' big dance ship.
   The Bearcats (12th in USA Today/ESPN poll/11th in AP), who are in their 13th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which is the third longest active streak in the nation, plan to start four players that are 6-7 or taller in the first round.
   "Their strength and power is a concern," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow earlier this week. "They are very capable of scoring points. They play an aggressive style of basketball."
   Starting forward Jason Maxiell leads the Bearcats into the game against ETSU, while reserve Tony Bobbitt is coming off a big MVP performance in the Conference USA Tournament.
   Senior guards Kareem Johnson and Fields Williams are also penciled in to start for Bob Huggins' team.
   In Buccaneer head coach Murry Bartow's eighth game against the Bearcats as a coach (seven previously at UAB), he is seeking his first win.
   "To be honest, in my games against Bob, I haven't fared well, but this is a new game, a new team and a new season," Bartow said. "I look at this as a whole new deal.
   "I think playing them and having the experience of playing them will help me in terms of the preparation with this year's team," he said. "You know when you are a 12 or 13 seed, you are going to be the underdog. It's going to be a tough game."
   One of ETSU's major concerns has been defense and rebounding. However, the team is confident in their chances to win.
   "At times, we play defense really well; sometimes we don't," said senior post Zakee Wadood, who is third in the nation for steals. "For us to win Friday, we're going to have to have a really good game. We need to rebound better than we have this whole year."
   "We feel very confident about this game," added senior Jerald Fields, who will likely draw Maxiell on defense. "We know we are going to have to play excellent defense and get on the boards. That's going to be two of the main objectives."
   A lot of mainstream media attention has been on ETSU point guard Tim Smith, who had another big postseason run.
   "We don't get many big teams that want to play us," Smith said. "You never know, this may be the last time we're on TV or on this big stage. We just want to go out and play hard."
   Ben Rhoda will be key for ETSU outside, while it is unknown whether freshman Travis Strong will start in place of injured junior James Anthony.
   Anthony is expected to return during Friday's game, while sophomore Brad Nuckles will see plenty of action from the bench.
   "I think people know who we are," Wadood added. "I don't think anybody will take us lightly. I'm sure Cincinnati will not."
   - Cincinnati approved the return of 6-10 junior center Robert Whaley on Tuesday. He is a big threat that could likely throw a wrench in the Bucs' gameplan.
   - Smith played with Cincinnati's sophomore guard James White at Virginia's Hargrave Military Academy in 2000-01.
   - Cincinnati and East Tennessee State have played two common opponents. Cincinnati drilled Clemson (79-56), while the Bucs fell in overtime on the road. The Bearcats also hammered Elon, 102-63, while the Bucs pulled out two tight games against the fellow SoCon school.
   - ETSU will play Cincinnati as early as 2:45 p.m. Friday at the Nationwide Arena. Dick Enberg, Matt Guokas and Lesley Visser will be calling the game for CBS.