Southern Methodist Mustangs
Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 9:00pm
Written by Matt Severance on January 11, 2017
SMU Mustangs at No. 22 Cincinnati Bearcats
When/Where: Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati
Spread: Bearcats -6
Arguably the best matchup in the country on Thursday night in college basketball action features easily the two best teams in the American Athletic Conference as SMU visits No. 22 Cincinnati — they have combined for 16 straight wins between them and are the only two AAC teams without a conference loss. You can see the game on ESPN.
SMU (14-3, 4-0 AAC) was rocked by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown’s decision to abruptly step down in July in what was perceived as a power struggle with the athletic direction and haggling over Brown’s contract. Tim Jankovich, who was hired as the coach-in-waiting under Brown in 2012, took over. He previously had been the head coach at Illinois State and North Texas, and Jankovich has done a fine job with his team on a 10-game winning streak. The non-conference losses were all pretty acceptable, to Michigan, USC and Boise State — all away from home. On Saturday, SMU crushed South Florida 84-65. Semi Ojeleye scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Jarrey Foster had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Sterling Brown added a season-high 19 points to go with five rebounds and five assists for the Mustangs, who won their 15th straight at home. SMU outrebounded South Florida 39-23. The Mustangs have outrebounded all four conference opponents by at least 16. The Mustangs have outrebounded 16 of 17 opponents and have a +13.2 rebound margin (1st AAC, 2nd NCAA) overall, including a +20.0 in AAC play.
In the winning streak, SMU has held all 10 opponents to 65 points or less and an average of 54.8 points per game. The opponents are shooting 37.1 percent during the past 10 contests. SMU’s scoring defense has improved to 59.1 (2nd AAC, 5th NCAA) and the field goal defense to .388 (4th AAC, 19th NCAA) over that stretch. Senior Ben Moore has 1,013 career points (37th at SMU), and recently became the 39th person in program history to 1,000 points. He also has 637 rebounds (16th at SMU), 104 blocked shots (8th at SMU), 191 assists and 81 steals. He is just the fifth Mustang to have at least 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocked shots. He leads that group in assists and is second in steals.
No. 22 Cincinnati (13-2, 3-0) has only lost to Rhode Island, which was No. 21 at the time, and at Butler, which was 16th then and is higher now. UC also owns a great win at then-No. 19 Iowa State and beat a solid Penn State squad from the Big Ten. Cincinnati enters on a six-game winning streak after a 67-58 victory at Houston on Saturday. Kyle Washington had 19 points and nine rebounds, Troy Caupain added 13 points, Jacob Evans had 12 and Gary Clark chipped in with 11 points and eight rebounds. Cincinnati shot only 39 percent but hit 10 of 24 from 3-point range.
This year’s UC club is much more effective on offense than recent teams. It leads the AAC with a 48.4 shooting percentage and ranks second in scoring with 79.3 points per game. UC remains formidable on defense, holding opponents to 36 percent shooting, and still rebounds well, with a plus 5.6 margin. But Coach Mick Cronin wants more, especially when it comes to rebounding, where he says the Bearcats are “just OK. I’d rather have this team than some of my teams that were great rebounding teams and couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the beach,” he said. “I’ve said this since my first press conference. We have good players. We have a good team. If we’ll rebound and play hard and get down and dirty and be physical like the Bearcats always do, we have a chance to have a great year.”
This will be the 10th meeting in the series. UC and SMU split last season with the home team winning each matchup. SMU rallied for a 59-57 win in Dallas on Jan. 7, 2016, while UC posted a 61-54 victory in Cincinnati on March 6, 2016. Cincinnati leads the series 6-3 overall, including a 5-0 record at home. SMU has failed to cover the past four meetings but will do so here even if it doesn’t win.
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Last Updated: January 12, 2017
Matt has been a sports journalist for nearly two decades. He is a former sports editor/writer at two newspapers and a magazine. Went full-time freelance sports writer in 2008 -- not by choice then but became a life-changing decision in the best possible way. Consider myself expert on all major US sports. If you are looking for Curling or Badminton expertise, etc., I'm not your guy.