CINCINNATI BEARCATS (19-2)
at LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (17-3)
KFC Yum! Center - Louisville, KY
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Louisville -9.5, Total: 128.5
No. 13 Cincinnati has found great success this season playing an easy schedule, and will face its toughest test of the 2013-14 campaign Thursday when it travels to No. 12 Louisville.
The Bearcats lost back-to-back games in December for their only two losses this season, having rattled off 12 consecutive victories (7-4 ATS) since then to move to 19-2 SU and 9-6 ATS overall this season. The most notable of those victories came against Pittsburgh on a neutral court and then-No. 18 Memphis at home. They are 2-1 SU and ATS as underdogs, winning and covering against the Panthers and Tigers, but losing SU and ATS to New Mexico. Although Cincinnati is 8-0 SU (4-4 ATS) in conference play this season, the team is a dismal 1-4 ATS on the road. Since their lone conference loss to Memphis on Jan. 9, the Cardinals have won four games in a row SU by a whopping 24.5 PPG margin. They have also played a tougher schedule than the Bearcats, as the reigning national champs are 17-3 SU with all three defeats coming against opponents who were ranked at the time (North Carolina, Kentucky and Memphis). Having covered in three straight, Louisville is 10-8 ATS overall (6-4 ATS at home) and 4-3 ATS against conference foes. Over the past three seasons, Louisville is 22-6 ATS (79%) after having won 15 or more of their previous 20 games. But Cincinnati is 26-13 ATS (67%) on the road under head coach Mick Cronin after having its previous game go Over the total. In the past five meetings between these two programs, the team that has won the game SU has also covered. The Bearcats have prevailed in three of those games, though the Cardinals took the two most recent ones, including a 67-51 blowout the only time they met last season. Despite that setback, Cincinnati is still 8-4 ATS (5-7 SU) in a dozen trips to Louisville since 1998.
Can Louisville take down Cincinnati by double-digits? 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 61% ATS (184-119-5) mark, including a stellar 64% ATS (152-85) record since Nov. 23. StatFox Brian is at 65% ATS (39-21-2) in Best Bets for the season and 70% ATS (32-14-1) since Nov. 26. StatFox Dave is 63% ATS (39-23-1) for the season and 73% ATS (22-8) since Dec. 18, while StatFox Zach is a strong 60% ATS (36-24-2) on Best Bets this season, including 64% ATS (30-17-1) since Nov. 22. StatFox Scott is also 60% ATS (37-25-1) for the season and 63% ATS (27-16-1) since Dec. 2, while StatFox Gary is 55% ATS (33-27-2) for the season, and 60% ATS (27-18) since Nov. 29.
Cincinnati is not the most efficient team on the offensive end, averaging 71.2 PPG (196th in Div. I) on 43.1% FG (248th in nation). Though the Bearcats average only 37.0 RPG (89th in Div. I), they are quite effective on the offensive glass with 12.5 offensive RPG (11th in nation). Defensively though, they are one of the stingiest teams in the nation, allowing 56.9 PPG (fifth in Div. I) on 38.3% FG (16th in nation). The one weakness is three-point shooting, as they make 33.9% threes, but allow 34.1% threes to their opponents. Also, Cincinnati's key defensive stopper, PF Justin Jackson (11.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG), is questionable to play after suffering an ankle injury against Temple on Sunday. Not only does Jackson lead the team in rebounding, but also he swats 3.4 BPG and nabs 1.8 SPG, both of which also lead the Bearcats. Offensively, Jackson is the team's second-leading scorer behind SG Sean Kilpatrick (19.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG). Though he isn't necessarily the most efficient scorer with a 42.7% FG clip and 34.6% from three-point range, he is the only reliable scorer on this team as the only other player with at least eight points per game. Kilpatrick has pumped in 22.3 PPG in his past four games, including a 29-point, 8-rebound effort against Temple on Sunday. But in last season's lone meeting with Louisville, Kilpatrick struggled mightily in the 16-point defeat, going 3-for-15 from the field, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range. If Jackson is unable to go, that will place only more pressure on SF Titus Rubles (7.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG), who averages 1.0 BPG and 1.3 SPG, to become the teamís second scoring option. But Rubles has scored in double-figures just once in his past 15 games, averaging a mere 6.9 PPG in conference play. He also committed a whopping eight turnovers in just 23 minutes against Louisville last season, which took away greatly from his nine boards and four assists that night. Freshman PG Troy Caupain (6.8 PPG) leads the team with 2.5 APG, and did a great job running the offense on Sunday with nine assists and just two turnovers in 24 minutes of action. But he has never faced a defense quite as smothering as Louisville, which never hesitates to put on a full-court press.
Defensively, the Cardinals rank third nationally both in steals (10.0 SPG) and in forcing 17.4 turnovers per game, while yielding only 61.8 PPG (22nd in Div. I) on 39.1% FG (25th in nation). Louisvilleís offense is much more dangerous than Cincinnatiís with 83.2 PPG (13th in Div. I) on 47.2% shooting (51st in nation) and 15.4 APG (35th in Div. I). The Cardinals also average 39.1 RPG (31st in nation), outrebounding their opponents by 4.8 RPG. Rick Pitinoís squad has five double-digit scorers, led by G Russ Smith (18.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.9 SPG). A shooting guard by nature, Smith has handled the ball this season and hasn't always been great (1.5 Ast/TO ratio), turning it over at least four times in six consecutive games. He led Louisville past Cincinnati last season with a game-high 18 points, but also had four turnovers that night too. But Smith will be happy to have junior G Chris Jones (11.3 PPG, 2.9 APG) returning to the backcourt with him. Jones missed the past three games with an oblique injury, but is expected to play against the Bearcats on Thursday. SF Luke Hancock (10.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG) and Wayne Blackshear (10.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG) both have the bodies to play down low, but make their contributions from the perimeter, hitting a combined 3.3 threes per game. Hancock is shooting career-lows both from the floor (39.6% FG) and from behind the arc (30.5% threes), but he has been hot lately with 15.9 PPG on 47.2% FG (36.2% threes) over the past seven contests. Down low, the teamís best asset is sophomore PF Montrezl Harrell (12.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG), who has stepped up admirably on the glass since Chane Behanan was dismissed from the team for academic reasons. In the past five games, Harrell has four double-doubles, averaging a lofty 13.0 PPG and 10.2 RPG during this stretch.