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Game Preview: Houston Cougars at Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati takes on the 13-2 Houston Cougars at Fifth Third Arena.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati basketball has been frustrating. The Bearcats, at 12-5 (2-2), are very talented, yet haven't been able to flip the switch yet, especially against tough competition. Last week was more of the same, with a 59-57 loss on the road to undefeated SMU and an uninspiring effort at South Florida this past weekend that resulted in a close Cincinnati win. Now, Cincinnati returns home to take on the 13-2 (3-0) Houston Cougars.

Meet the Opponent

Houston presents an interesting foe for the Bearcats. At 13-2, you anticipate a game that should come down to the last possession, but for the Cougars, this is a game where they'd like to see just how good they are. Houston, despite their impressive record, have yet to play hardly anyone of note, with wins over the likes of Murray State, Eastern Illinois, Wyoming and Nicholls State. They do have an overtime win against Ben Simmons the LSU Tigers, but their two losses have come against Rhode Island and Grand Canyon. Houston has secured wins over South Florida, Temple and Tulane in conference play, outlasting the Bulls and blowing out the Owls, who beat the Bearcats earlier this season.

Houston is led by guard Rob Gray Jr., who averages 18.6 points per game, hitting 46.7 percent of this field goals and 37.8 percent of his three-point shots. Forward Devonta Pollard adds 14.1 points per game, on 52.8 percent shooting, and brings in 6.1 rebounds per game. Guard Damyean Dotson actually leads the Cougars with 7.2 rebounds per game, while contributing 12.1 points per game himself. Guard Ronnie Johnson is the fourth Cougar who averages double-digit points with 11.9 per game. He also dishes out 3.2 assists per game, and Galen Robinson Jr. leads the team with 3.7 assists per game.

How Good Are These Teams?

Both teams enter the game with questions about how good they are. Cincinnati should, in theory, be fairing better this season, while nobody really knows how good the Cougars are, given their schedule thus far. This will be a big game for both, but especially for the Bearcats who can't afford to keep flirting with a conference win percentage around .500.

The question for Cincinnati is if the Bearcats can come out and play within themselves and beat a team that, on paper, they should beat. With this game in front of the home crowd, you'd hope Cincinnati will play a focused and determined game, but it's getting to a point where you just can't predict which Cincinnati team will show up to play. Does the team that stormed back against Iowa State and dominated Tulsa show up, or does the Cincinnati team that fell to Temple and has fallen in nearly every close contest they've encountered this season make an appearance?

Finish the Game

If this game does get close, like losses to Butler, Xavier, Iowa State and SMU have, does Cincinnati's defense buckle down and can they pull it out? So far this season, the Bearcats have failed to handle the late-game pressure well. This game, especially if Cincinnati doesn't come out firing, could follow a similar script. It will be interesting to see if Cincinnati can finally finish out a game strong, if this game ends up close.