Cincinnati Bearcats (12-7, 5-2) host SMU Mustangs (15-4, 5-2) on Tuesday night at Fifth Third Arena at 7:00pm ET on ESPNNews.
From 2014-2017, SMU dominated the AAC, going 82- 17 in three seasons and making the NCAA Tournament twice (they were snubbed in 2015, despite being 25-5).
But the last two years have been rough, going 17-16 and 15-17. It seems like they are “back”, as the Mustangs enter Tuesday night’s game with a 15-4 record.
They began the season 8-0, with the only notable win being against UNLV on the road, a team Cincinnati needed overtime to beat at home. They lost two straight to Georgetown and Georgia and are now 5-2 in AAC play.
They lost at East Carolina and at Houston. Houston is one of the best teams in the conference, so that loss certainly makes sense, but ECU? Just goes to show how hard winning on the road is in college basketball. Pirates won 71-68. One week later, they lost 82-57 at Cincinnati.
SMU enters this game on a three game winning streak, including a big time win at Memphis on Saturday. SMU overcame a double-digit deficit late in the game, to upset the 20th ranked Tigers 74-70 on the road. The other two wins during this win streak came against Temple and ECU (at home).
Despite the strong record, SMU does not have the strongest metrics, to date. They are 65 in KenPom and 68 in NET. A weak OOC hurts them.
Players to Watch
Four guys average 30 minutes per game and score over 12 points per game.
Kendric Davis is the man for SMU. The sophomore guard averages 16.2 ppg and 7.2 apg, plus 4.4 rpg. He is shooting 46% from the field as well.
Isiaha Mike (14.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Tyson Jolly (14.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg), and Feron Hunt (12.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are the other big contributors. After that, there is a huge drop off.
SMU has had issues with their depth and bench the last few years and this season has been no different and it’s comparable in many ways to Cincinnati, who has played this year with a weaker bench.
Cincinnati is 12-5 all-time vs SMU and 11-4 in AAC play, including a 6 game win streak.
The last time Cincinnati lost to SMU was 2017 in the conference tournament championship game. Bearcats also lost earlier that season at SMU, when they were ranked #11 and a loss in 2014, when the Bearcats got up to #7 in the polls. Cincinnati was 22-2 coming into that game and this was seen as SMU’s big national break out performance.
They met three times last year, including the conference tournament and Cincinnati won by a total of 16 points. In 2018, they also met three times, but the total win margin for Cincy was 55 points (winning by 10, 25, 20).
What the Bearcats Need to Do to Win
The easy answer is have Jarron and Jaevin Cumberland combine to score 30 or more points. It worked last week at Temple, when the cousins combined for 37 points. Unfortunately, it’s probably not that easy. They do need killer All-American Jarron though and they need scoring production off the bench from Jaevin.
The real key is going to be limiting turnovers and outrebounding SMU. Mustangs average 39 rpg and have 3 guys averaging nearly 7 rpg. Trevon Scott, Chris Vogt, Mamoudou Diarra, and Jaeme Sorolla are going to need to play a big role.
Bearcats are embarking on a major stretch that will determine whether or not making the NCAA Tournament is a realistic possibility, with SMU and Houston at home this week and Wichita State and UConn on the road next week.
Cincinnati and SMU come into the game both 5-2 in AAC play. Wichita State is also 5-2 and all three trail Houston and, (triple checks notes) Tulsa, who are both 6-1.