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Game Preview: No. 19 Wichita State Shockers at No. 5 Cincinnati Bearcats

Not only is UC looking to bounce back, they’re also looking for a quality victory.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bearcats will look to bounce back from a disheartening, although a more than likely bound-to-happen-at-some-point loss to the Houston Cougars this past Thursday night. The Bearcats took a slim 3-point lead going in to the half, but were outscored 43-35 in the second half to ultimately stumble to a 67-62 loss to the Cougars.

Despite having a 16-game winning streak, being ranked fifth in the AP poll (and being as high as third in the Ken Pom ratings!), UC is going to have a tough challenge in getting that bounce back win as they face the No. 19 Wichita State Shockers.

Who are the Wichita State Shockers?

This will be the first time this season, and the first of two match-ups in just two weeks, between the 19th-ranked Shockers and the Bearcats, this one coming at BBC Arena this Sunday afternoon.

So, what kind of Wichita team will Cincinnati be facing off against this weekend? They are currently ranked 19th in the AP Poll and the 18th ranked Ken Pom team. Despite an overall 20-5 record, a 10-3 mark in league play — second right behind the Bearcats in the AAC standings — and a three-game win streak, it hasn’t been all that easy for Greg Marshall and his team. While the Bearcats were stunned down in Houston on Thursday, the Shockers were almost facing their own shocking loss. Facing the Temple Owls for the second time this season, the Shockers were brought down to the wire by the Owls. However, Wichita was able to squeak by with a 93-86 home victory. Had they the Shockers lost, it would have been the second time in two weeks that Temple ousted them as the Owls were able to stun the Shockers during an 81-79 overtime victory in Philadelphia.

Despite having the 11th ranked adjusted-offense per Ken Pom, Wichita has a poor (79th) adjusted-defensive ranking. This should bode well for UC. Despite having a mediocre (53rd) adjusted-offensive rating, the Bearcats are stout when it comes to defense, ranking second only behind the Virginia Cavaliers and their pack-line defense.

Bearcats need bench help

Outside of junior Cane Broome, the Bearcats haven’t gotten too much help in terms of scoring from their bench players. This is something that Cincinnati was obviously able to cover up while rolling to a 16-game win streak in the American Athletic. However, against a tougher Wichita State team, and definitively when it comes tournament time, Mick Cronin will need to find a way to get his bench more involved if UC has any hopes of making a deep run in March.

Even Broome was held back against Houston, as he didn’t take a single shot in only six minutes of play. That’s a big reason why the Bearcats were outscored 16-2 off the bench. Guys like Broome, Trevor Moore and Keith Williams have all shown double-digit scoring ability before, it just needs to happen more frequently, especially in games when the starters are struggling.

While this recent bad bench play doesn’t mean that Cincinnati has no chance of making a run in March, it is not uncommon for a highly-seeded team to get knocked out early after some of the starting lineup struggles and there isn’t much depth help.

Prediction Time!

While I don’t necessarily buy in to the whole “good loss” rhetoric, I don’t think that Thursday night’s setback to Houston is anything to panic about. If anything, it can probably help re-focus the team at the right time. To add on to that, this game is very important when it comes to UC’s hold on the AAC lead and to help build its NCAA tournament resume. The Shockers are only two games behind the Bearcats in the league standings. If they win on Sunday, the Shockers would put themselves in a good position to climb above Cincinnati in the standings before the regular season ends. With only one top-50 Ken Pom win, the Bearcats will need to win these types of games if they want to prove that they are a real threat this year in March. I think they prove that with a statement win.

Cincinnati 70 Wichita State 65