SMU (10-2) at Cincinnati (11-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, January 1, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fifth Third Arena (13,176) -- Cincinnati, Ohio. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: SMU 6-0, UC 10-0. Away Record: SMU 2-1, UC 0-1. Neutral Record: SMU 2-1, UC 1-1. Conference Record: SMU 0-0, UC 0-0. Series Record: Cincinnati leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: A pair of teams that enjoyed tremendous success in non-league play get to work in the brand new American Athletic Conference on New Year's Day, as the SMU Mustangs visit the Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena.
The second season for the Mustangs under Larry Brown has been off to a thrilling start, with the team sporting a 10-2 overall record as it begins its maiden voyage through the AAC. A former Conference USA member, SMU is a perfect 6-0 at home and has won two of three on the road this year. Another challenging contest follows this one as the Mustangs take on No. 17 Connecticut at home.
Cincinnati also tore through its non-league schedule, producing an 11-2 record. The Bearcats didn't leave Fifth Third Arena very often during that time, posting a perfect 10-0 mark on their home floor. In fact, they will play just their second true road game of the season when they face No. 18 Memphis this Saturday.
This is the first meeting between these teams since 1975, and the third overall. Cincinnati has claimed victory in two of those tests, including a 106-74 rout in the most recent.
This contest marks the second half of a two-game road swing for SMU, which topped Wyoming, 62-54, in the first leg. The Mustangs held the Cowboys to 34.8 percent shooting, and outscored them in the paint (34-18) as well as in second-chance points (15-6).
Brown has instilled a defensive mentality at SMU, and the Mustangs have responded by allowing just 61.1 ppg while holding foes to 35.7 percent shooting. Their opponent field goal percentage is ranked third nationally, while they also rank in the top-20 in scoring defense. Offensive efficiency is also a key to Brown's game plan, with the Mustangs ranked sixth in the country in field goal percentage (.509). Among the starters, Nic Moore (3.8 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Yanick Moreira (10 ppg, 6 rpg) are the top scoring options, although each serves a vastly different role on the floor, with Moore running the point and Moreira taking up space in the paint. Markus Kennedy (10.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is a solid threat off the bench.
Cincinnati battled Nebraska last time out and came away with a 74-59 victory. Justin Jackson scored 15 points, collected 10 rebounds and blocked four shots en route to winning his second-straight AAC Player of the Week award. His efforts helped the Bearcats earn a 40-23 advantage on the glass.
Mick Cronin's squad knows a thing or two about defense as well, as the Bearcats rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense (56.5 ppg), all while limiting the opposition to 38 percent field goal efficiency. The defensive dominance was apparent against Nebraska, which managed to hit just 35.7 percent of its total shots. Jackson (11.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.1 bpg) has been on a tear of late, with three straight double-doubles. He has also blocked four shots in each of those outings. Sean Kilpatrick (19.1 ppg) is still the top scoring option on the roster. He only knocked down 2-of-13 shots from the floor against Nebraska, but his willingness to put the ball on the deck allowed him to get to the foul line plenty, as he hit 17-of-18 attempts to finish with 21 points.
Both coaches have their teams playing a hard-nosed style of basketball. With Jackson having the hot hand of late and the Bearcats rarely faltering at home, expect Cincinnati to have the upper hand.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 68, SMU 60
01/01 10:32:13 ET