Recap: Conference Champions 70, Scarlet Knights 66

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati's regular season comes to a conclusion as they sneak out of New Jersey with a too-close-for-comfort win and a share of the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship.

The Bearcats, picked 4th in the preseason AAC poll, completed a wonderfully successful regular season on top of the standings with those dastardly Louisville Cardinals.  Most of the preseason "bracketologists" had the Bearcats in the tournament but somewhere around a 10 seed.  This little team that could said screw all that and made this a season to remember.  One that will likely result in a top 4 seed (in a region) in the NCAA Tournament.  Not too bad for a coach nobody wanted to support and a team full of marginal talent.

It was far from easy Saturday.  Playing their second game in less than 48 hours, the Bearcats looked gassed and really had to dig deep to pull it out.  After a very slow start, the Bearcats raced back and eventually held a 10 point lead...only to give it back quickly and even found themselves down a point in the final minutes.  Thanks to a great putback by Justin Jackson and a 3-point play from Sean Kilpatrick the Bearcats were finally able to hold off the Scarlet Knights who were very much into playing the role of spoiler.

From the tip, Sean Kilpatrick looked extremely tired.  He missed his first several shots and it looked like a long day.  But, buoyed by some nice contributions from Kevin Johnson, Troy Caupain, and Jermaine Sanders, the Bearcats were able to stay above water until Kilpatrick was ready to save this one for UC.  And boy did he ever.

Not sure if SK will win the AAC Player of the Year when the awards are announced next week, but he's certainly had one hell of a season and definitely would be worthy of the honor.

One award that will be an absolute crock of you-know-what will be if Mick doesn't win the conference coach of the year.  The only other coach who could have any stake to it might be Larry Brown, but Mick deserves to win it and in this guy's opinion the only way he won't will be if Larry Brown flashes one of his rings and everyone fawns over him.

Back to this game, you had to know going in that the emotions of Thursday's Senior Night festivities would make today hard to get up for.  And Rutgers was certainly up to the task of spoiler which made it all the more difficult.  Would have been pretty easy for them to pack it in and let the Bearcats walk all over them.  But they didn't and gave UC fits.  Each time the Bearcats made a run, the Scarlet Knights came right back with one of their own.  In the end, it was the will and the heart of this team - the same thing we've seen for nearly the entire season - that put them over the top and finished off a great regular season.

Sure they still do some mind-boggling things on both ends of the floor and need to clean those up if a deep run is to happen.  Getting other guys to chip in like they have the past two games is tremendously important and a nice little trend.  If I could, I'd like to request it to stick around for 9 more games.  Not asking for too much am I?

Well, that wraps it up for the regular season.  Thanks to the coin flip that gave UC the #1 seed in the AAC Tournament, the Bearcats will start their postseason Thursday night in Memphis and play the winner of the UCF-Temple game slated for Wednesday evening.  Due to the fact Temple gave UC fits in both games, let's all root for UCF to be the opponent.  I don't think anyone wants to see Dalton Pepper anymore.

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