When: 11 a.m. CT, Sunday, March 6
Where: Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio
TV/Radio: CBS/KAAM 770
Series: Cincinnati leads 5-3
Last Meeting: SMU won 59-57 on Jan. 7, 2016 at Moody Coliseum
After a 3-4 stretch, SMU (25-4, 13-4 American) has won four straight games to get back into a tie for first place in the AAC. SMU won its final home game on Thursday, pounding Connecticut 80-54. In each of SMU’s four losses, its opponent averaged at least 1.08 points per possession, helping briefly knock SMU’s defensive efficiency out of the top 100. Now, SMU is back up to 62nd and held its last three opponents to under 0.9 points per possession. Nic Moore is 5-for-22 from the floor in his last two games, but it hasn’t hindered the Mustangs offense. They have had four double-figure scorers in each of the last three games. Sterling Brown is averaging 16.3 points in his last three games and scored 20 in Thursday’s win, the second-highest output of his career.
Breaking down Cincinnati
The Bearcats enter Sunday’s game at 21-9 and 11-6 in the AAC and are coming off a 69-56 loss at Houston Thursday night. The loss eliminated them from conference title contention and didn’t help ease them off the NCAA Tournament bubble. SMU, 10th in RPI, would be Cincinnati’s best win and would likely wrap up a tournament bid. Known for its defense, Mick Cronin’s team has defended well in conference play after giving up at least 70 points four times in the nonconference portion. Cincinnati’s, which uses a lot of matchup zone defense, holds opponents to an average of 93.1 points per 100 possessions, 10th-best nationally. Offensively, the Bearcats have topped 70 points just once in the last seven games, and that came against East Carolina, the worst defensive team in the conference.
Three Players to Watch
F Gary Clark: The sophomore leads Cincinnati with a 123.0 offensive rating, a top-80 figure nationally. For the season, he averages 10.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He’s only totaled 10 points in the last two games, but averaged 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the eight before that. He makes 73 percent of his shots at the rim.
G Troy Caupain: The junior point guard is Cincinnati’s leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. He’s only a 39 percent shooter, but he boasts a solid 2.6-1 assist-turnover ratio. He commands Cincinnati’s offense well, even though the team doesn’t score a lot.
G Farad Cobb: Almost strictly a jump shooter, Cobb makes 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. However, he has shot only 25 percent from 3 in his last six games. Against SMU on Jan. 7, he made 6-of-11 3-pointers, tying his season high in makes and attempts.
Matchup to watch
Gary Clark vs. Ben Moore. It’s a matchup of two very good defenders who have had strong offensive seasons, especially of late. Clark is a bigger player at 235 pounds, compared to Moore’s 205, but Moore has defended bigger players like Dedric Lawson and Kyle Wiltjer well. Clark put up 13 points and 11 rebounds against SMU earlier this year, but Moore scored 15 points on Cincinnati.
Key to the Game
Avoid a low-scoring game. Cincinnati wants to play a defensive and physical battle and wear teams out. SMU’s slower-paced offense plays well to Cincinnati’s defense. The Mustangs have only topped 60 points once against Cincinnati, and that was in 2014. If SMU can get to about 70 points and control the pace, it has a much better chance to win. Cincinnati doesn’t have the offense to keep up.