In a matchup that was practically destined to take place, the Cincinnati Bearcats will take on the the Houston Cougars in the championship round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Story so Far
College basketball fans were gifted with two high intensity semifinals on Saturday, as the top seed Cougars fended off fifth seed Memphis and the Bearcats just barely scraped by sixth seed Wichita State.
They took alternate paths through the quarterfinals. The Bearcats rallied to defeat SMU while the Cougars topped UConn by nearly 40 points.
Both teams enjoyed a bye for the first round due to their exceptional regular seasons. Houston’s was a bit better than UC’s, as the Cougars captured the AAC regular season title. The Bearcats finished second in that regular season title chase and won 25 games before the postseason began.
Recapping the Season Series
This section is not going to lend a lot of support to anyone hoping the Bearcats win on Sunday. Houston won both meetings between these programs this season, including a rather definitive 85-69 triumph exactly one week ago in Cincinnati.
The Bearcats kept things much closer when they faced off the first time, but ultimately fell short in a 65-58 final. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have their chances either, as the Bearcats failed to score even one point in the last six minutes. That scoring drought included 11 consecutive missed field goals.
Jarron Cumberland still found a way to score 27 points in that game, but he did so on just 9-of-25 shooting. Cane Broome was the only other Bearcat in double figures, as he tallied 10 points as a reserve. Corey Davis Jr. and DeJon Jarreau each scored 16 points for the Cougars, who outscored the Bearcats 32-20 in the paint.
Davis Jr. was even better last Sunday, as he poured in 31 points to carry the Cougars past the hosting Bearcats. However, once again, the Bearcats could have won. They led 47-41 with 13:11 to play in the second half, but once again missed too many shots while allowing the Cougars to score seemingly at will. Cumberland at least had 20 points, but the Cougars once again had the edge on scoring on the interior (32-26) as well as off of turnovers (22-12).
Players to Watch
Houston - Corey Davis Jr.
There is a real argument to be made that Davis Jr., and not Cumberland, should have won the AAC Player of the Year award. That is not the official position of this site, but the point remains. Davis Jr. has been excellent this season. He leads the Cougars in scoring (16.8 PPG before Saturday) and makes roughly three triples per game. He is also a strong defender (96.3 defensive rating) and led the AAC in win shares (5.9).
Cincinnati - Nysier Brooks and Trevon Scott
Houston has been able to defeat the Bearcats before by dominating in the front court. Brooks and Scott combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds against Wichita State on Saturday, and they will need to produce similar numbers to ensure the Bearcats aren’t playing catch up in the paint.
This will be UC’s third-straight season in the AAC’s championship game. Their results in the first two have varied between terrible (2017) and great (2018). If they hope to repeat last year’s championship win, they’ll need to go through Houston, a team with 31 wins and only two losses all season.
The Cougars are a top 25 team nationally on both sides of the floor, so the Bearcats can’t afford one of the scoring freezes they’ve been prone to so often this season. Much of that will rest on Cumberland’s shoulders. The AAC’s leader in usage percentage does everything for the Bearcats and he has to be at his best on Sunday. If he is and if the Bearcats can hang with the Cougars for a full game instead of just part of one, they could have some nets to cut down. The odds are against them but we’re not here to play the odds. Cincinnati 67 Houston 65