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Game Preview: Temple Owls at No. 9 Cincinnati Bearcats

Those pesky Owls are back for round two.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Temple Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Engine, engine, number nine, on the New York Cincy transit line, if my train goes off the track, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up. I’m pretty sure that’s how Black Sheep did it.

That hip-hop inspired introduction leads us to today’s preview as the newly minted No. 9 Cincinnati Bearcats will host the Temple Owls in an American Athletic Conference rematch at BB&T Arena.

The last time we saw the Owls, Jacob Evans was pumping ice in his veins and dropping daggers, allowing the Bearcats to escape Philadelphia with a 55-53 victory on Jan. 4.

Who are the Temple Owls?

Obviously, this is more of a reintroduction than a completely new team for the Bearcats, who just seem to struggle against Fran Dunphy’s bunch. Although UC is 20-9 all-time against the Owls, recently, each game has been a rock fight. Including the win earlier this month, the last five games have been decided by a total of 24 points. Luckily, the Bearcats have come out on top of the last three, including a season sweep a year ago.

Since Evans laid the hammer down, the Owls have been playing fairly decently, going 3-2 in their last five games, including a 66-64 road win over SMU, which just beat Wichita State last week. It was one of Temple’s best wins of the season, but there is still a lot of work to be done if these Owls hope to go dancing. They are just 10-9 overall and 2-5 in AAC action. Essentially, it would take a nearly flawless record during the last 11 games to punch an at-large ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Temple took a break from AAC play to face Big Five rival Penn last time out. Obi Enechionyia nearly had a double-double to pace the Owls, tallying 15 points and nine rebounds in a 60-51 victory. Shizz Alston contributed 14 points as the Bearcats shot better from outside the arc (.438) than inside (.400). Leading scorer Quinton Rose (14.4 PG) only had five points in the win, marking for his fourth game in single digits over the last six. Obviously Alston (13.3 PPG) and Enechionyia (11.7 PPG) can pick up the slack if needed, even if the Owls aren’t a particularly effective offensive team, scoring only 67.9 points per game.

A Near Miss

During its current 10-game winning streak, the Bearcats have not had many real challenges, with an average winning margin of 19.2 points. The win over the Owls was the only game decided by fewer than 10 points and if not for Evans’ heroics, it could have been a stain on UC’s AAC-leading conference record (17-2, 6-0 AAC).

Although Evans had the game-winner, he missed all three of his shots from three-point range and was second on the team with 14 points. He still contributed across the board, however, notching six rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Kyle Washington actually led the team in scoring with 18 points while Gary Clark added 10 points and an uncharacteristically low four rebounds for the AAC’s best player on the glass.

UC actually trailed Temple at halftime in that matchup, but by holding the hosts to 26.7 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, it was able to capture the victory. The Bearcats also got more easy looks in that final frame, outscoring the Owls 18-8 on points in the paint in the half and 24-16 overall.

Pushing Past the Pirates

The Bearcats have played a few games themselves since last facing the Owls. Did I mention they’ve won 10-straight games yet? What about the fact that they’ve won 36-straight games at home, the longest streak in the country? Now that you’re caught up, let’s dive into the last win, which came via an 86-60 final over the East Carolina Pirates.

ECU gave the Bearcats its best shot in the first half and still trailed 46-38 at halftime, so that gives you an indication of how this game went. With four players scoring in double figures — paced by 17 from Evans and Washington — the Bearcats just willed themselves to a 26-point victory. Clark was pretty great in the game after a slow start (14 points, 14 rebounds) and the Bearcats posted an offensive rating of 126.5 compared to an 88.2 mark from ECU.

Cane Broome’s work in the game went a bit unheralded, but the sixth man recorded seven points and six assists in 28 minutes off the bench. His offensive rating of 162 in the game led all Bearcats.

Prediction Time!

Now that the Owls will have to contend with the Bearcats on the road, I’d expect a less contested game. With Clark playing out of his mind recently, UC will be a tough team to beat, especially when you take into account Temple’s offensive issues. In addition, the Owls are only 2-5 in away games and their facing the hottest home team in the country. Give me the Bearcats.

Cincinnati 70 Temple 59