CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (17-4)
at CINCINNATI BEARCATS (21-2)
Fifth Third Arena - Cincinnati, OH
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Cincinnati -5.5
Undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, No. 7 Cincinnati will face a tough test Thursday night when it hosts No. 22 Connecticut, which is 6-1 (SU and ATS) in its past seven contests.
The Bearcats dropped two back-to-back contests in non-conference play to unranked teams in New Mexico and Xavier in mid-December, but since then have rattled off 14 consecutive wins, going 8-5 ATS in the process. That includes victories against then-No. 18 Memphis and then-No. 12 Louisville, covering in both games, their only two against ranked squads all season. Overall, they are 10-7 ATS (5-5 in AAC) and 7-2 ATS at home. Connecticut had two bad losses at the beginning of conference to play at Houston and at SMU but have gone 6-1 SU and ATS since then, including a win against Memphis and a home loss to Louisville. The Huskies are 10-9 ATS overall (5-3 ATS in AAC) and 3-2 ATS on the road. These two teams split their two meetings last season with the home team winning each time, but UConn was the ATS winner in both matchups. That makes the Huskies 7-2 ATS in their past nine meetings against the Bearcats, and in the five meetings in Cincinnati since the schools have been in the same conference, UConn is 3-2 SU (3-1-1 ATS). Although head coach Mick Cronin is just 3-15 ATS (17%) as a home favorite of 3.5 to 6 points since taking over the Bearcats program, Kevin Ollie is only 5-15 ATS (25%) after 2+ straight wins as the Huskies head coach. Both teams have some nagging injuries, but UConn PF DeAndre Daniels (ankle) and SG Omar Calhoun (ankle) are both expected to play in this game, while Cincinnati SF Jermaine Lawrence (toe) has also been upgraded to probable for Thursday.
Can Cincinnati extend its win streak to 15 games against a ranked UConn team? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts have been rolling in college basketball Best Bets this season with a 59% ATS (191-135-5) mark, including a stellar 61% ATS (159-101-3) record since Nov. 23. StatFox Brian is at 63% ATS (41-24-2) in Best Bets for the season and 67% ATS (34-17-1) since Nov. 26. StatFox Dave is 61% ATS (40-26-1) for the season and 68% ATS (23-11) since Dec. 18, while StatFox Scott is a hefty 59% ATS (39-27-1) for the season and 62% ATS (29-18-1) since Dec. 2. StatFox Zach is a strong 58% ATS (37-27-2) on Best Bets this season, including 61% ATS (31-20-1) since Nov. 22, while StatFox Gary is 52% ATS (34-31-2) for the season, and 56% ATS (28-22) since Nov. 29.
UConn averages 76.1 PPG on a 46.5% shooting clip, ranking 71st in the nation in both categories. Despite having a great backcourt, the team averages 13.2 APG (147th in Div. I) and 11.2 turnovers per game. The Huskies have been a great three-point shooting team all season though, knocking down 7.6 threes per game on a stellar 41.5% accuracy rate (6th in nation). On defense, they give up just 64.9 PPG (50th in Div. I) on 38.6% shooting (14th in nation), due in large part to 6.7 BPG (6th in Div. I). UConn hasn't been a great rebounding team (+2.1 RPG margin), but it has outrebounded each of the teams during its three-game win streak by a +13.3 RPG margin. PG Shabazz Napier (17.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.7 APG) leads the team in the three major categories, also pacing the team on defense with 1.9 SPG. He didnít play last year in the loss at Cincinnati, but in UConnís OT home victory, Napier scored a game-high 27 points, making 6-of-9 threes. This season heís making 44% of his long-range attempts, and over the past four games, he's averaging 25.5 PPG and making 13-of-29 threes (45%). PF DeAndre Daniels (13.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG) didnít play in the teamís last game against Houston, an 80-43 rout last Thursday, but expects to play against Cincinnati and could be a major factor on the perimeter, where he hits a phenomenal 48% of his threes. In last season's series with the Bearcats, Daniels averaged 17.5 PPG on 52% FG (4-of-11 threes) with 6.5 RPG and 3.5 BPG. SG Ryan Boatright (12.4 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.7 SPG) rounds out their double-digit scorers. Although he shot poorly in the series with Cincinnati last season, going 7-for-25 FG (1-of-9 threes), he was able to get to the foul line 15 times in the road meeting and finished with 22 points. The other guy to watch on Thursday though, is 7-foot freshman C Amida Brimah (4.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG), who paces the team with 2.7 BPG in only 14.9 MPG.
Cincinnati doesnít boast a scary offense with 70.2 PPG (217th in nation) on 42.9% shooting (256th in Div. I) and 33.6% threes. But the Bearcats defense is among the best in the nation, giving up only 56.7 PPG (4th in Div. I) on 38.6% shooting (16th in nation), forcing an impressive 15.2 turnovers per game (31st in Div. I). Cincinnati also does a great job getting after the ball with 6.0 BPG (13th in nation) and 8.3 SPG (21st in Div. I), and is a quality rebounding team (+4.9 RPG margin). Low-scoring games are the Bearcats' recipe for success, which they showed in last yearís 61-56 victory against the Huskies, holding them to 34.6% shooting and 2-for-18 from beyond the arc. Once again this season, SG Sean Kilpatrick (19.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG) is the teamís main scoring threat, but he shoots just 42% FG and 32% threes. He averaged 19.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG against UConn last season, but made just 13-of-32 shots (41%) and 7-of-21 threes to get his points. The senior has scored at least 18 points in each of the past six games this season, including 25.0 PPG in the past three contests. Senior PF Justin Jackson (11.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG) is the only other Bearcats player averaging double-digit points and is the teamís second-leading rebounder. Heís also nasty defensively, averaging 3.3 BPG and 1.8 SPG, but in his one meeting with the Huskies last season, Jackson scored just four points with three rebounds before fouling out. SF Titus Rubles (7.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG), SG Shaquille Thomas (7.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and PG Troy Caupain (6.2 PPG, 2.4 APG) are also important for this Cincinnati team that largely depends on Kilpatrick and a tenacious defense to win games. All five of the aforementioned Bearcats average at least one SPG.