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Cincinnati may have looked ahead a little to this game as they slipped up on the road at Providence on Wednesday. Because the Big East is so cluttered, the Bearcats fell a few spots in the standings. The leaders are sitting at 7-2 in conference play and Cincy rounds up the upper echelon with a 6-4 record. Pittsburgh is right in the middle of the mix with a 7-4 record. A loss in this game for Cincinnati and they could easily fall out of contention to be regular season champs.
The Big East has a conference-high seven teams in the Top 25. Four of those schools are No. 20 and beyond and because of those tight rankings, a few could easily fall out, including Cincy if they lose here. The Bearcats started the season with 12 straight wins and looked to be the main competitors to Louisville and Syracuse, but that hasn't been the case. They've played off-and-on for the entire conference season.
Cincinnati opened conference play with a nice road win at Pittsburgh, but lost their next two games at home to St. John's and Notre Dame. They beat a solid Marquette squad at home and most recently fell to Providence. The season has been anything but easy for them. However, with that win at Pittsburgh already under their belt, they should feel comfortable heading into this game.
The Panthers also had a very good start to their season although they didn't really beat any highly regarded schools. They lost their first two games of conference play, but have come back strong from the slow start. Out of nowhere, Pittsburgh destroyed Georgetown by 28 points on the road. They have two overtime losses to Marquette and Louisville and most recently got their biggest win of the season over Syracuse.
As both teams have similar records, it wouldn't be surprising to see them get very familiar seedings in the NCAA tourney.
The last time these two teams played, Pitt lead at halftime by eight points, but a 44-point second half let the Bearcats come out with the win. Obviously, Pittsburgh will need to play much better defense if they want this home win.
That game took place over a month ago and it was a classic Big East battle. The teams went a combined 3-for-26 from long range and played grind it out basketball. It was a close game for most of the way and will likely be a battle again, this time in Cincinnati.
The main problem for the Pitt defense in the previous contest was the Bearcats top players. Leading scorers Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combined for 34 points, but they only made eight field goals. Cincinnati did their damage from the free throw line hitting 25 of their 35 attempts. The duo of Kilpatrick and Wright will be a handful once again for the Panthers. Neither player was particularly effective against Providence which is the main reason the Bearcats didn't win. Kilpatrick was 1-of-8 from three and Wright only had six points.
The Panthers have an extremely balanced squad with no one averaging over 11 points per game. Tray Woodall and Lamar Patterson have been their most reliable offensive players lately and will likely be again in this game. Freshman big man Steven Adams is coming off a 15-point effort against Seton Hall and he'll likely matchup with Cheikh Mbodj of Cincinnati.
The Bearcats are favorites as they are playing at home, but this is a game that should come down to the final couple minutes leaving either team able to come away with a win.
Predicted Score - Pitt 59 Cincinnati 58
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