Cincinnati Bearcats are 13-7 and 6-2 in conference play heading into Saturday’s big home game against Houston. Despite several bad losses early in the season, Cincinnati is inching closer to entering the bubble conversation and a win on Saturday would go a long way to expediting those conversations.
You can watch the game at 6:00 on ESPN2. Or you can buy tickets here and show up to Fifth Third Arena on Saturday night.
History of the Series
Cincinnati has lost the last 3 regular season matchups against Houston, but won the last meeting in the 2019 AAC Tournament Championship Game. It’s also the last game that Mick Cronin ever won as head coach of the Bearcats.
The last regular season game was the first ever home loss by Cincinnati to Houston in 17 tries.
You can read more about the history of this series, including some recent notes and highlights.
Cougars are 17-4 and 7-1 in AAC play. They are ranked 21 and enter Fifth Third Arena on a 5 game winning streak and have won 11 of their last 12 games.
Houston’s lone conference loss came a couple of weeks ago at Tulsa (63-61). The same Tulsa team that lost to Cincinnati 70-44. Tulsa is currently 6-1, tied with Houston for first place in the loss column
Houston’s OOC losses came to BYU (72-71), Oregon (78-66), and Oklahoma State (61-55).
Their four losses are by a combined 21 points and just 9 points if you take out the Oregon game. Ducks are the best team in PAC-12 and currently ranked 11.
Houston is ranked 23 in KenPom and 36 in the latest NET ranking. They are 7th in the nation in rebounding (42.6 rpg) and 50th in points allowed (63.5 ppg).
Players to Watch
The good news for Cincinnati is they no longer need to deal with Corey Davis Jr. Davis averaged 17 ppg in 2018-19. Him and Armoni Brooks (13.4 ppg) were the only two players to average double figures in scoring. They were also the only two guys to play 30 minutes per game.
This year, the Cougars don’t just have one or two scorers. Five players average over 9.0 ppg.
The names that will look most familiar to Cincinnati fans are Fabian White, DeJon Jarreau, and Nate Hinton.
In three games against Cincinnati last year, White combined for 8 points, 10 rebounds, while playing an average of 20 minutes. After averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds through his first two years, White’s averages are at 10.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Most notably, he is an 83% free throw shooter this year, after shooting an average of 69% from FTs his first two seasons.
In the first Cincy/Houston game last year, Jarreau was great off the bench, scoring 16 points on 7-12 shooting. He scored 13 points on 6-12 shooting in the regular season finale at Cincinnati. Jarreau’s season average was 8.7 ppg.
Hinton, a 6’5 guard, leads the team in rebounding at 9.3 rpg and is third on the team in scoring at 10.4 ppg. The only double-double of Hinton’s career came in last year’s regular season finale at Cincinnati, where he scored 16 points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
The new faces are freshman Caleb Mills and transfer Quentin Grimes.
Mills has started just 8 of the team’s 21 games, but is the Cougs’ leading scorer at 13.1 ppg. He notably averages 1.2 assist per game (notable given that he is a guard).
Grimes, a former McDonald’s All American in high school, left Kansas after last season to join Houston and was declared immediately eligible. He is averaging 12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 2.6 apg and has done a good job filling the voids left by Davis and Brooks.
What’s at stake
To be honest, the NCAA Tournament is at stake for Cincinnati. With 10 regular season games to go, the Bearcats cannot afford to lose more than 2 and they still have to play at Houston and at Wichita State. That means, protecting home court at all costs. A win Saturday would get Cincinnati into the bubble conversation, with work still to be done. But being in the conversation is a much different idea than what fans were potentially looking at earlier in January.
How Cincinnati Can Win
It’s simple - they can win if Jarron Cumberland plays like All-American Jarron Cumberland, which he has done the last two games. Cumberland scored 22 points against Temple and had 28 against SMU on Tuesday, on 9-13 shooting. That type of efficiency and production will be hard for any team to stop. Jarron being on, is often an indicator that other’s are on too. He needs to continue to play like a senior and like a guy who has, at minimum, 11-12 games left in his collegiate playing career. Cumberland can go down as an all-time great at UC. How great? We’ll know in the next month.