The Cincinnati Bearcats travel to Philly on Wednesday night to take on the Temple Owls. Cincy enters the game with an 11-7 overall record and a 4-2 record in the AAC. This is the start of a critical four game stretch that will determine whether or not the Bearcats make the NCAA Tournament for a 10th straight season.
Currently, the 7 losses already matches their 2019 total. During this recent run, Cincinnati lost 9 regular season games (10 losses including conference tournament) in both 2015 and 2016 and made the tournament as an 8 and 9 seed, respectively.
That means the margin of error is extremely slim and the Bearcats still have to face some of the conference’s top competition, including during this pending stretch.
Cincinnati plays at Temple, home against SMU and Houston, and at Wichita State. 3-4 wins keeps them very much in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament. 2 or more losses? This season’s focus shifts to development and we await the conference tournament in March.
Vs Temple - Wednesday
Cincinnati is 1-4 in true road games and 3-6 away from home. A win would be a big deal, simply because of the difficulty of winning on the road. Winning on the road is incredibly challenging in college basketball.
Temple is by far the weakest of the 4 opponents coming up. They enter the game 10-7 and 2-4 in AAC play. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games, with the only win coming against Wichita State, who at the time was ranked 16th and came into the game with just 1 loss. One of those losses was 70-44 to the Tulsa team that Cincinnati recently beat by 30. One of their two wins was against Wichita State, their only AAC loss and just their second loss overall (at the time).
Losing to Temple means the end. It means we can stop with the fairy-tale hypothetical. It means the only way Cincinnati makes the NCAA Tournament is winning the AAC Tournament. Not because Temple is a bad team. Temple is currently #87 in KenPom. That wouldn’t represent the worst loss of the year for Cincinnati, but it would be another “bad” loss in a season that already includes 3.
Also, losing to Temple proves that this team cannot win on the road and cannot play at a high, consistent level from game-to-game.
Vs SMU - Tuesday 1/28
SMU has been down the last couple of years, after dominating the AAC for a brief stretch. They seem to be back on the right track, currently at 13-4. SMU lost to the ECU team that Cincinnati destroyed on Sunday, proving again, how hard it is to win on the road.
Bearcats must protect home court, especially after a 6 day layoff. After Wednesday’s Temple game, they are off this weekend, with a chance to rest up and prepare for this tough stretch.
SMU averages 76 ppg as a team, led by Kendric Davis. Davis is their leading scorer at 16 ppg and leads the team with 7.2 apg. He also averages 4.8 rpg and 1.2 spg.
SMU has to go to ECU and hosts Memphis on Saturday, before playing Cincinnati. This is one is so critical because, while SMU is off to a strong start, the Bearcats have the potential to be the better team and are playing at home. This is one they simply cannot let slip away.
vs Houston - 2/1
Houston swept the regular season meeting with Cincinnati last year, before Cincy got payback in round 3, winning the AAC Championship game. This is a must different Houston team, with Corey Davis gone. They are led by Fabian White, DeJon Jarrea, and former Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes.
Houston is currently #23 in KenPom. A home win on Saturday would represent Cincinnati’s best win of the season. Simply, due to the losses piling up, Bearcats must pick up several quadrant one victories to impress the committee, and this would be a great start.
Houston is 8th in the country in rebounding (42.9 rpg) so this is a game where Trevon Scott and Chris Vogt will need to really step up down low.
A loss won’t end their run to March, but a win is necessary to enhance it.
vs Wichita State - 2/6
If Cincinnati wins the first three games of this stretch, losing won’t be a huge deal. Wichita State has been in the top 25 most of the year (though currently are just outside at #26) and they are ranked 38th in the latest KenPom rankings.
There would be no shame in losing on the road to a top 25 team, in a building that is incredibly difficult to win at (even though Cincinnati has won 2 straight).
A loss simply means at win at Fifth Third Arena on 2/23 is a MUST.
But a win? It means Jerry Palm of CBS and Joe Lunardi of ESPN better make room in their mock 68 team brackets for the Bearcats. They need a signature win and this would be it. Because of Cincinnati’s track record, they will likely have enough good will and respect banked to sway the committee to put them on the right side of the bubble.
Right now, Cincinnati is not in the NCAA Tournament conversation, nor do they deserve to be. But, if they beat the teams they are supposed to (Temple, SMU) and get some signature victories along the way (Houston, Wichita State), they will do more than just enter the conversation. That’s why this stretch is so critical, and with the way this team has played of late, they have proven they are more than capable of handling the challenge.