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Everyone knows about Louisville who were last year's National Champions, but what about Cincinnati, who is only one spot behind the Cardinals in the rankings at No. 13? Are the Bearcats for real, or has it just been a fortunate schedule for them?
While Cincy does play in the American conference, it already has a road win at Memphis by 16 points which is impressive in itself. Its other impressive win came on a neutral court against Pittsburgh. Outside of that, the Bearcats haven't done a whole lot, losing at New Mexico and to Xavier on neutral courts. And outside of that road game at Memphis, Cincy has had trouble in every other road game this year, winning close at Houston, South Florida and Temple.
The Cardinals get a ton of respect, but maybe more so for what they did last year because their schedule hasn't been all that tough either. They won at Connecticut, but also lost a home game to Memphis. Other losses include at Kentucky and on a neutral court to North Carolina. This isn't the same team as last year and will find itself in a battle against Cincinnati in this game.
The loss of Chane Behanan hurt Louisville immediately, but it looks like the Cardinals have figured out how to win without him. Of course, it also helps when other people step up. Luke Hancock is back to full health and has scored double figures in every game since Behanan was kicked off the team. Hancock was a difference maker in last year's NCAA Tournament, and it's showing up right now. It hasn't been just Hancock either, with Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell both stepping up. Blackshear is figuring out his offensive game a bit and has now averaged 16 points over the last three games, six points above his season average. Harrell has been a beast down low, notching four double-doubles in the last five games.
The good news for Louisville is that point guard Chris Jones is projected to be back after missing the last few games. He and Russ Smith (18.1 PPG, 4.8 APG) form one of the top backcourts in the nation. Smith is a pure scorer and a guy that you can't let get hot.
Cincinnati is known for its tough defense and stopping guys like Smith and Harrell will be key points to having success. On the opposite side of that, the Bearcats don't have the most consistent offense, so if their defense can't hold down the opponent, it's going to fall on the offense. That's how they lost their two games, scoring just 101 total points in those games.
It starts with leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick, who averages 19.1 points per game and is one of two players that average double-digits on this team. The problem with him is that he's not the most efficient shooter at 43 percent (35 percent from three). While his numbers are up from last year, they still are below a guy like Russ Smith's. Louisville gets the backcourt advantage due to Kilpatrick's partners in Ge'Lawn Guyn and Troy Caupain, who don't present much on the offensive end.
Down low, the Cardinals also have a bit of an edge over Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas. Granted, that's more on the offensive end where the Bearcats aren't really known for scoring. Cincy plays old school man-to-man defense for the most part and this will be one of its toughest matchups of the season. Can they stop Smith, Harrell and Hancock from putting up points? If not, it's going to fall on Kilpatrick to have a good shooting day from the field which is always a question mark.
Our Model's Predicted Score - Louisville 72 Cincinnati 62
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