AAC supremacy will be up for grabs when the Houston Cougars host the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sunday afternoon. Both Houston and Cincinnati have just one loss in conference play, and both teams already look to have locked up a spot in March Madness. Houston is ranked No. 12 in the nation coming into this game and has lost just once all season, while Cincinnati rounds out the rankings at No. 25 and has lost just three times. This is the first of two meetings between these teams this season, as they will close the regular season against one another too.
There are no injuries or suspensions to report for either Cincinnati or Houston ahead of Sunday’s big game.
Houston is a moderate favorite ahead of today’s game. The Cougars are favored by five points over the Bearcats, and I think the line could move up another point prior to tip-off. Houston is rated 2.9 points ahead of Cincinnati according to Ken Pomeroy, and the Cougars will have a sellout crowd watching them at the Fertitta Center. The over/under in this game befits these team’s reputations as defense-led squads at 132.5 points.
What’s at Stake?
One of these two teams will win the AAC regular season title barring a complete collapse from either side in the final month of regular season play. These teams both have just one loss in conference play, and the next closest team is UCF with three losses. Everyone else in the AAC has four or more L’s on the resume, so whichever team wins here will be in the driver’s seat going forward.
As impressive as Houston’s 22-1 record is, the Cougars don’t have a lot of good wins on their resume. They beat Oregon and LSU in non-conference play, but the Ducks have since hit a wall, leaving only the LSU victory as a solid win. Houston has defeated UCF and South Florida already in AAC play, and the Cougars got revenge on Temple last week after losing on the road to the Owls in early January. They have had two days of rest prior to tonight’s game.
Cincinnati played a tougher non-conference schedule than Houston, so it’s no wonder that the Bearcats have a couple more losses on their resume. They have proven they can go on the road and win though, with road victories over Temple and Memphis prior to this game. This is a bit of a tough situation for Cincy as the team just went on the road to take on Memphis on Thursday.
Houston is led by its guards. The Cougars’ five leading scorers are all guards, but they haven’t been very efficient from the floor this year. Not one of them is shooting better than 44.3 percent from the field this season, and only Armoni Brooks has been great from deep, sinking 49 percent of his threes. They aren’t afraid to fire away from deep though, as they are attempting more than 26 treys a game.
Their defense has been phenomenal though. They have the second-best opponent shooting percentage in the country, and Houston is allowing opponents to hit just 26.5 percent of their three-point attempts. That ability to defend from distance well makes them tough to come back on once they have built a lead.
Jarron Cumberland is the go-to guy for Cincinnati. He is averaging 18.6 PPG on the year, and he has been great from range. The Bearcats don’t shoot a lot of threes, but both he and Justin Jenifer have been lights out from beyond the arc so it will be interesting to see how they fare against the Cougars defense.
Cincinnati is great at limiting your chances from the field. The Bearcats are the best in the nation at protecting the glass, allowing just 29 rebounds per game. Combining that with an incredibly slow tempo means opponents must make the most of their chances against Cincy.
I like the Cougars to take care of business in this one. Houston’s guards will be able to concentrate on stopping Cumberland and Jenifer, and the team’s love of the three-ball will help mitigate Cincinnati’s rebounding advantage and lead to more offensive rebounds.