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Bearcats Just Got an Assist from SMU

We all expected Cincinnati and Wichita State to be knotted at the top of the American Athletic Conference standings all the way up to their first meeting. That might not be the case now thanks to the Mustangs.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Wichita State Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

In the last few years, the SMU Mustangs have consistently gotten in the way of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ quest to win the American Athletic Conference. Last night, they did something to help in that task, as they upset No. 7 Wichita State 83-78 on the road.

The win obviously means more for SMU, which ended a three-game losing streak and now has a resume-boosting victory. In fact, right now, if you compared this victory to UC’s best win (at UCLA), the Mustangs have a leg up. Luckily, the Bearcats blasted SMU 76-56 on Jan. 7 and are now sitting alone at the top of the AAC standings, with a perfect 5-0 mark in league play.

So what do we do now? I was ready for the clash of the century on Feb. 18 when the Shockers invade Fifth Third Arena — and it still should be — but now the Bearcats may have a little more wiggle room leading up to that game. Obviously losing any games is not a good thing, but now they aren’t walking a razor’s edge. Of course, Wichita State probably isn’t going to lose again between now and Feb. 18, so it is still important for the Bearcats to maintain their current pace (nine-straight wins), but now a loss to a non-Wichita State team will not spell immediate doom for UC’s AAC chances.

Not only did SMU beat Wichita State, but it showed what it might take to do so. It’s a lot. Shake Milton scored 33 points on 11-of-14 shooting, including a 5-of-6 mark from three-point range. As a team, the Mustangs knocked down 63.8 percent of their shots from the floor and 50 percent (11-of-22) from three-point range. That is a big ask, but that means Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland are going to play critical roles in UC’s meetings with Wichita State because if the Shockers can be ousted by effective shooting from long range, Evans and Cumberland will carry the torch.

So for now the Bearcats owe the Mustangs a thank you, that is until they play them again on Feb. 11, exactly one week before they finally face off with Wichita State.