Last Updated: 2017-03-06
The American Athletic Conference may not get as much play in college basketball as it has in college football over the last couple of seasons, but arguably the top game on the hardwood tonight features the SMU Mustangs at the Cincinnati Bearcats. A handful of top 25 teams are in action, including the Bearcats, who cracked the rankings this week. They’ll have a chance to stand up to that ranking at Fifth Third Arena in the Queen City as a favorite of about six points on Thursday night. For an out of this world sports betting experience, give Galaxy Sports a try. BangTheBook readers can use the promo code ‘BTB’ to get a $100 percent deposit bonus up to $300 on their first deposit.
Heading into Thursday night’s matchup, SMU and Cincinnati are the only undefeated teams in conference play so far this season. SMU is 4-0 and 14-3 overall and Cincinnati is 3-0 and 13-2 overall. These two teams meet on Thursday and then again on February 12. We’ll have to see if a third meeting is coming during the AAC Conference Tournament. SMU is 8-4 against the spread thus far and UC is 7-4 against the number. Cincinnati has played the slightly more challenging schedule, as this is SMU’s first matchup of the season against a ranked opponent. The Bearcats have already played Rhode Island, Iowa State, and Butler. Only Butler remains ranked, but the others were ranked at the time the games were played.
First-year head coach Tim Jankovich has to be a little bit worried about his team coming into this game. As mentioned, SMU hasn’t played a ranked foe to date, though they have played some decent teams like Pitt, Michigan, and USC. Conference play has been a breeze thus far. A four-point win on the road at Memphis opened things up and the Mustangs haven’t won by less than 14 in their other three conference games. Transgressions under former head coach Larry Brown left the Mustangs with seven scholarship players this season, so depth is a bit of a worry for Jankovich and this is the type of game where it could show up because this is going to be a physical, throwback type of game. Defense is the calling card for both teams. The Mustangs have held opponents to 37.1 percent shooting over the last 10 games and just 38.8 percent for the season.
This is the type of game that can elevate Semi Ojeleye’s AAC Player of the Year stock. The Duke transfer has been the primary focal point for SMU offensively with 17.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He’s shooting over 48 percent from the floor and 44 percent from beyond the arc. The supporting cast has some scoring punch as well, with Shake Milton, Ben Moore, and Sterling Brown averaging 11.9, 11.6, and 11.4 points per game, respectively. Milton is a true sophomore and Moore and Brown are four-year senior starters. It’s no surprise that this roster is so dependent on the players with experience within the program and a former recruit that was good enough to go to Duke. The scholarship reduction hasn’t been a hindrance yet for Jankovich, but we’ll see if SMU gets into foul trouble here.
Mick Cronin’s teams are going to play defense. They are doing that this season as well as just about anybody in the country. The Bearcats have allowed just 61.4 points per game, which ranks in the top 15 nationally, and they have held the opposition to 36 percent from the floor, which is second in the country. En route to going 3-0 to start conference play, the Bearcats allowed opponents to shoot just 30.3 percent from the floor. Opponents are shooting 35.4 percent at Fifth Third Arena, which is sold out for Thursday night’s game, so a crowd of over 13,000 will create a strong home court advantage. The thing about Cincinnati’s excellent defensive prowess is that it has created some offense as well. The Bearcats scored 71.7 points per game over the first three conference games and have scored 79.3 points per game overall. It is worth pointing out that Cincinnati’s success rate plummeted from non-conference to conference play, so that’s worth watching. With a total in the mid-120s, it seems like oddsmakers are fully aware of that development.
Jacob Evans is the primary scoring threat for the Bearcats with 15.1 points per game. The sophomore from Baton Rouge is shooting 52 percent from the floor and over 43 percent from three-point land. North Carolina State transfer Kyle Washington has found a home in Cincinnati with 13.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Senior guard Troy Caupain is one of those glue guys that fills each stat category on a nightly basis. In recent years, balance has been a big deal for Cronin, so he really spreads playing time around nicely to make sure that everybody can chip in offensively, but mostly that his players have the legs to play defense. So far, that formula has worked nicely.
College Basketball Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats -5.5
These are two pretty evenly-matched teams, but a physical game like this tends to highlight depth. Right now, Cincinnati has more of it than SMU. SMU has the best player on the floor in Semi Ojeleye, which is a bit of a neutralizer, but the Bearcats also have a big home court advantage and they are a little bit more battle-tested given the schedules to date. This should be a great game and will highlight the two best teams in the AAC.