The Houston Cougars have had a banner season. They could end up with a No. 2 seed if things break their way in other conference tournaments, and they take care of business in the AAC. Houston is 28-2 on the year, and the Cougars will be favored to get to 30 wins by the time the conference has been decided. They can win the AAC regular season title outright with a win over the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Queen City on Sunday afternoon.
There are no injuries to report for either team coming into this battle between the two best teams in the AAC.
Even though Houston has only lost twice this year, the Cougars are underdogs coming into this game. Cincinnati is a two-point favorite at home tonight, and the over/under is 128.5 points.
What’s at Stake?
Houston has already locked up the No. 1 seed in the AAC Tournament starting March 14 and will play the winner of the 8-9 game. The Cougars would love to win the AAC conference title outright too. They are 15-2 in conference coming into today’s game with the Bearcats, while Cincinnati is 14-3. A Bearcats win would level both teams at 15-3 and lead to a split conference title.
That would be important for the Bearcats and would likely earn them a lower seed in the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati took a hit with its loss to UCF during the middle of the week, and the Bearcats really don’t have a signature win to hang their hat on just yet. Their best wins to this point are against Ole Miss, Temple, and UCF, and a win over Houston would be the brightest feather in their cap.
This is the last regular season game for both teams. Both sides will start playing in the AAC Tournament on Friday after receiving a bye into the Quarterfinals, and then both teams will look to win three games in three days to win the AAC Tournament and clinch an automatic bid into the postseason. Cincinnati and Houston have already done enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament without winning the conference though.
When these teams met in Houston in mid-February, the Cougars picked up a 65-58 win. Houston committed nine more turnovers than Cincinnati that day, but the Cougars shot almost 50 percent from the floor while the Bearcats managed to make just a third of their attempts.
Before the start of the season, the AAC made the decision to backload their best games at the tail end of the year to shine a bigger spotlight on the conference heading into the conference tournament. That has worked as this game will be highlighted on CBS at noon.
Houston is rated significantly higher in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings than Cincinnati, yet both sides are known for playing very good defense. The Cougars have been one of the best defenses in the nation in a number of categories. They are holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 43.2 percent (4th in the country), and teams are hitting just 28.3 percent (3rd in the country) of their threes against this perimeter defense. They have been solid at collapsing in the paint too, and they don’t allow you to have a lot of easy buckets.
The Bearcats’ defense has been solid too, but some of that is the result of the team playing at an agonizingly slow pace. This is one of the ten slowest teams in the country according to tempo statistics.
For Cincinnati to win a share of the conference title and pick up a signature win, the program needs a good performance from Jarron Cumberland. Cumberland put up 25 shots in just 29 minutes in the first meeting between these teams, but he hit just 36 percent of his attempts. That’s not a recipe for success.
Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Broooks will be the keys for Houston on offense. These are the team’s two top scorers and both are dynamite three-point shooters. They have combined to put up 480 treys between them this season, and they have sunk 39.6 percent of those attempts.
It’s usually square to bet on the better team when they are a road underdog in a game, but I really like the Cougars here. Cincinnati doesn’t have a solid shooter outside of Cumberland, and Houston has proven that it can shut down this offense before.