Just when we started to believe that Cincinnati had taken that final step needed to top the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati fell to Memphis, 63-59 on Saturday, leaving not only the regular season conference title even further out of reach, but also leaving the Bearcats on the outside looking in for postseason consideration.
A loss to a good Memphis squad isn't technically the end of the world for Cincinnati fans, but the margin for error just got a bit thinner and a game against an 11-10 (5-5 in the American) UCF squad becomes a must-win scenario.
Meet the Opponent
The Knight are what their record says they are; a middle of the road AAC team. They have swept conference foes South Florida and East Carolina, with a fifth win over a lowly Tulane squad, and have dropped games to the likes of SMU, Tulsa, Memphis, Connecticut and Temple. UCF beats the bad teams and loses to the good teams, but that's not to say Cincinnati is immune from a potential letup. The Knights did take Temple to the wire just days ago, losing 62-60.
UCF is led in scoring by two players who average double-digit point totals. A.J. Davis paces the Knights with 12.9 points per game and leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. He also adds 3.1 assists, trailing Daiquan Walker's 3.9 average for the team lead. Adonys Henriquez averages 10.1 points per game. From there, the Knights have six players who average over five points per game.
If you feel like you've seen this section in a game preview before, it's because you have. Cincinnati has struggled this season stopping the three-ball with teams taking advantage of the Bearcats suffocating match-up zone to find open shots on the perimeter. While Cincinnati ranks No. 10 in the country, only allowing 62 points per game, the Bearcats rank No. 194 in opponent's three-point percentage, allowing teams to shot 35% from beyond the arc.
At times this season, opposing teams have hit stretches where one or two players catch fire, knocking down deep shot after deep shot. Against the Knights, Cincinnati has to keep the three from hurting them as UCF knocks down 33.7% of their three-point shots with four players hitting over 35% from distance.
If UCF is going to knock off Cincinnati, it will likely come down to the three-ball and compared to some opponents this season, the Knights are relatively accurate from deep. The Bearcats will need to either find a way to challenge the three-ball better or will have to hope the Knights go cold.
Cincinnati needs this game. Technically, the Bearcats aren't in a true must-win situation, but they really can't lose this one against a middling AAC team. With big games remaining against Connecticut and SMU, Cincinnati has a chance to win over voters in this final stretch of the season. It is likely a moot point though if they can't beat the Knights.
The Bearcats have struggled to string together wins lately, after winning seven straight to open the season. Now, they will likely have to close with another seven wins to be comfortable come Selection Sunday. That's a good deal of pressure to shoulder for that length of time. We will get to see how Cincinnati handles it, starting with their game against UCF tonight.