Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats won a bunch of games. Thirty to be exact. And you can’t get to that kind of win total with out some wins against stiff competition or without a few dramatic finishes. There were plenty of those. There was the overtime grinder against Iowa State. The surprisingly thrilling finish against Marshall. Difficult clashes against Temple. The two-point win over SMU. And the biggest one of all, the return of the Crosstown Shootout title belt.
The Bearcats have a rather tough schedule this season, so more epic contests will abound. Here are the ones that will provide the most drama.
10. Jan. 4 at Temple
The Owls were a real thorn in the side last season. Although UC swept the season series, they were tougher games than you might have expected. Temple may only be ranked No. 67 by KenPom this season, but Fran Dunphy always finds a way to coach up this guys. Plus, the Owls will be sporting the stylings of Obi Enechionyia and Quinton Rose once more. This team isn’t expected to be awesome, as it was picked seventh in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll, but it could surprise some teams. Cincinnati can’t be one of them.
9. Feb. 3 at UConn
Every game against UConn is a rock fight. It doesn’t matter if the Huskies are at the top of the AAC heap or if they’re down near the bottom. These two former Big East teams are the closest thing to a rivalry the AAC has and they play like it. Well, except for last season, when the Bearcats won by margins of 14 and 20 points. Still, traveling to take on the Huskies isn’t a trip that should be taken lightly.
8. Dec. 31 vs. Memphis
Memphis is another team that is traditionally competitive but isn’t exactly at the height of its powers right now. Despite that, this matchup with the Tigers is an important one if for no other reason than its the league opener. If UC is going to win the AAC like the league coaches suspect, then getting off to a good start in conference play will be important.
7. Jan. 16 at UCF
With B.J. Taylor running the show on the court and Johnny Dawkins doing it from the sidelines, the Knights are a team on the rise. While Scott Frost may not have anything to do with that, the fact that UCF is molding into a competitive threat in basketball and football shows that something is going right down in Orlando. The Knights won 24 games last season and that included an upset of UC in late February. Hopefully the Bearcats will be out for revenge this winter.
6. Feb 11. at SMU
There’s a reason the UConn rivalry has lost some of its luster in the last couple of years and its not just because the Huskies have taken a step back. SMU has risen toward the top of the AAC and pushed UC out of the way to rack up two league titles in the last three seasons. Shake Milton is a contender for AAC Player of the Year and the Mustangs have talent around him, ranking No. 24 according to KenPom. The Mustangs beat the Bearcats twice last season, including a convincing victory in the AAC tourney. It’s time that UC returns the favor.
5. Feb. 18 vs. Wichita State
SMU and UConn are the chief rivals for UC basketball but the Shockers are next in line. Wichita State is a mid-major program that is stepping into the #Power6 after years of dominating against competition at all levels. Currently No. 4 according to KenPom, the Shockers boast a roster of talented guys like Landry Shamet and a track record of five-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. This will be UC’s introduction and chance to greet its new league mates with a home victory.
4. Dec. 9 vs. Florida
December is going to be a difficult month for the Bearcats and this is one of the reasons. Big things are expected from the Gators, who rank No. 8 in KenPom’s preseason ratings. This game will be played in Newark, New Jersey as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, and it will be a marquee game for the season as a whole. The Gators made it all the way to the Elite Eight last season, so this is a great chance for UC to prove its got the chops to go deep in March before the New Year comes.
3. Dec. 16 at UCLA
Lonzo Ball won’t be playing for the Bruins but this is still a game to circle on your calendars. UCLA knocked UC out of the NCAA Tournament last season, robbing it of its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012. This year, even without Ball, the Bruins should be a competitive bunch. They are ranked No. 29 by KenPom after all. That’s not elite level, but its still in the NCAA Tournament bubble. That’s a bubble the Bearcats would like nothing more than to burst for their foes from Southern California.
2. Dec. 2 at Xavier
If the Bearcats can only win one game this season, this is the one any self respecting UC fan would choose. UC finally got the monkey of its back in the Crosstown Shootout last season, dispatching of the Musketeers 86-78 at Fifth Third Arena. A welcoming crowd will not await in this one, which comes rather early in the season. It is also part of an incredibly challenging run in early December for the Bearcats, as this game is followed by the tests against Florida and UCLA.
1. March 4 at Wichita State
Luckily, we don’t have to worry about UC winning just one game. The Bearcats should win a whole bunch. That’s why Xavier only comes in second on this list. While a win in the Crosstown Shootout is necessary for a successful season, the Bearcats have their eyes set higher. Considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the league (with the order depending on who you ask), this finale could decide who wins the regular season title and provide momentum heading into the postseason.