With one win under their belt, SMU players have their eyes set on the ambitious goal of winning the AAC Tournament and returning to March Madness. Friday, a monster obstacle stands in their way.
The Cincinnati Bearcats come into Friday’s matchup as the No. 8 team in the nation. Cincinnati has won 27 of its 31 games this season, and finished 16-2 in conference play.
Moreover, the Bearcats throttled SMU in two matchups this year, winning by 20 and 25 points.
“We know them very well,” Tim Jankovich said of the Bearcats. “Which, just because you know them well doesn’t make it easier to play them.”
Friday, Mick Cronin’s squad will be looking to avenge last year’s AAC Tournament loss that it took at the hands of SMU.
The two teams have been the cream of the AAC’s crop in the three seasons before this one, and some intense battles have taken place between the clubs.
Last season in Cincinnati, Sterling Brown last-second 3-pointer rattled out to give the Bearcats a win. It would be SMU’s only conference loss of the season.
The year before that, Brown was ejected in Moody Coliseum as Nic Moore’s clutch shooting boosted SMU to an intense win over the Bearcats.
This year, Cincinnati features the conference’s Player of the Year: forward Gary Clark. Clark averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and more than a block and a steal per game. Like many of Cincinnati’s players, Clark impacts the game on both sides of the ball.
The team’s leading scorer is guard Jacob Evans, who averages 13.5 points per game to go along with a block and a steal.
The Bearcats possess the nation’s second best defense, surrendering just 57.3 points per game.
“They’re deep, they’re old, they’re talented… I mean come on. They’re great,” Jankovich said of his opponent.
Another advantage that Cincinnati will have is rest. The Bearcats will have had four days of rest going into the game, while SMU’s legs will be tired after scrapping out a win against UConn.
Akoy Agau rolled his ankle in the game, and while he says he will play, he may not be 100 percent. Agau poured in 21 points against the Huskies, and SMU will need him to be at full strength, as he is the team’s most experienced big man.
All the chips may be stacked against them, but the SMU players believe that they have a chance against the juggernaut Bearcats, especially if they get hot like they did for stretches against UConn.
“I think if we do what we did today, take away a few lapses that we have, I think we’ll have a really good chance,” Agau said. “And it’s hard to beat a team three times.”
SMU vs. Cincinnati tips off at 11 a.m. CT on ESPNU.