As Jon Rothstein would say, “THIS IS MARCH.”
The Bearcats head into the last week of the regular season at 25-4 and tied for the AAC lead. If you told me at the beginning of the year there is no way I would’ve believed you, and I’m not the only one. Not many people would think that a team that lost 2 NBA players (Gary Clark & Jacob Evans) and possibly Mick’s greatest offensive big man ever (Kyle Washington) would be in this position, but yet here they are.
What is upcoming?
This week is the toughest part of the schedule so far this season. Facing two ranked teams in the span of 4 days, one being on the road, is something most teams in the country haven’t had to do. This stretch is really going to show us what this team is made of.
Thursday (7pm) @ UCF: The last time these two teams played, the Cats prevailed in a dogfight, winning 60-55. Nysier Brooks had the game of his life on defense. He was aggressive and physical guarding the 8th world wonder in Tacko Fall. Brooks held Fall to only 7 points and 4 rebound, FOUR REBOUNDS. The 7-foot 6-inch man was just dominated down low, often times being forced to pass the ball out and not even getting the ball at all. No player for UC stood out on the offensive end with nobody having more than 12 points. Aubrey Dawkins, the coach’s kid, scored 18 points with four threes for the Knights. The highlight play of the game was when Justin Jennifer hit a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left to put the Bearcats up 6 and seal the game. After hitting that shot JJ turned to the student section and put his hand up to celebrate with them.
Both teams are coming into this game off of wins. UC with a 71-69 win over Memphis, and the Knights with their upset victory over Houston 69-64.
Sunday (12pm) vs. Houston: This is the biggest game of the year so far. A sellout crowd will be packed into the beautiful Fifth Third Arena to see these two teams fight it out for 40 minutes. The last time they played Houston won a close one, holding the Cats scoreless for the last 6 minutes of the game. Jarron hit a three pointer to put the Bearcats up 58-57 but then proceeded to miss his next 6 shots. The team combined to shoot 0-11 in that 6-minute scoreless streak. That cannot happen again if the Cats want to win this time around.
Houston has a tune up game against SMU before coming to Cincy. The Cougs will be looking to get back on track after losing at home to UCF. That loss also snapped the longest home winning streak in the country.
What’s at stake for the Bearcats?
The Bearcats have a chance to clinch back-to-back AAC regular titles. They can clinch it outright by beating both UCF and Houston this week, or they could clinch a share of the title with a loss at UCF and a win vs Houston. Winning both games guarantees them the #1 seed in the AAC tournament and an easier path to the championship. Either way they have clinched a top 2 seed in the tournament and a 1st round bye.
NCAA tournament seeding is also at stake in the coming weeks. Win out and win the tournament and the Bearcats are looking at a 3 or 4 seed, lose one game or both and the Cats could land anywhere between a 6 seed and a 9 seed. Winning out is very important for the bigger goal of winning the NCAA tournament and not just the AAC tournament.