Sterling Brown (Photo by Matt Visinsky)

Game Preview: SMU vs. Cincinnati for the AAC Championship

SMU faces Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference Championship at 2:15 p.m. CT on ESPN in Hartford, Conn.

SMU (29-4 overall, 17-1 in AAC) vs. Cincinnati (29-4 overall, 16-2 in AAC)
WHEN: Sunday, March 12 at 2:15 p.m. CT
WHERE: XL Center (Hartford, Conn.)
SERIES: SMU trails 4-7
LAST MEETING: SMU won 60-51 on Feb. 12 in Dallas

Pony Trends

It hasn't been an easy experience in the AAC Tournament for the Mustangs. Tim Jankovich's squad has struggled at times with foul trouble, the press, shooting well as a team, etc., but SMU made it to Sunday, which is huge to begin with for this team. Coming off its win over UCF, SMU should feel better about itself than when East Carolina almost stole the team's dreams with a first round upset. SMU went on a 14-3 run in the second half to extend the lead over over UCF and pull away for the win. Sterling Brown's 22 points and Semi Ojeleye's 17 points were a big part in SMU's win over the pesky Golden Knights.

Scouting Cincinnati

It was a foul fest, but Cincinnati got it done against Connecticut to advance to the AAC Championship. The Bearcats made 38 free throws against Connecticut, fourth most in school history, helped Mick Cronin's team get the job done. This is still the best shooting team in the Cronin era, topping 70 points the most times in a season under Cronin. Against Connecticut, Gary Clark added 25 points while chipping a tooth in the game and Jacob Evans added 21 points. 

Key Bearcats to Watch

F Gary Clark: With 15 of his 25 points coming from the free-throw line against Connecticut, it's clear Clark has no problem getting to the line. SMU will have to continue to be smart with its fouls and force poor shots from Clark like the team did in Moody Coliseum earlier this season.

G Jacob Evans: The Bearcats' leading scorer is averaging 20 points per game and shooting 76 percent from the field in the AAC Tournament alone. The 6-6 wing has stepped his game up in a big way and Sterling Brown will have to lock him down. 

Projected Cincinnati Starters: 
G Troy Caupain
G Kevin Johnson
G Jacob Evans
F Gary Clark
F Kyle Washington

Projected SMU Starters: 
G Shake Milton 
G Sterling Brown
G Jarrey Foster
F Ben Moore
F Semi Ojeleye

Matchup to Watch

Gary Clark vs. Semi Ojeleye: Clark was a big reason for Cincinnati's win over SMU at home, but in Moody Coliseum, he was limited to just six points. As Clark goes, Cincinnati goes in this game. A huge game from Clark will help with spacing for Cincinnati, who can get better looks from beyond the arc having a threat in the post. Ojeleye and Ben Moore will be huge in the effort to contact the big junior. If they can't, watch out. SMU has been very good in the paint and that will have to continue on Sunday.

Keys to the Game

It's always billed as a slugfest of sorts between Jankovich's and Cronin's squads. The key for SMU is to start hot shooting the ball. The last two times against Cincinnati, the Bearcats shot the ball very well to start things out and the first time around, it carried them to victory. If SMU can't get going early, it's going to be a tough road back with as good of a squad as Cincinnati is defensively. Start hot and ride that to an AAC Championship is the best way to go.

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