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The No. 21 Cincinnati Bearcats – who are playing their home games at BB&T Arena this season – made it through non-conference play with just two blemishes. Both of those losses came against ranked opponents at the time: Xavier and Florida.
Once again, it is the defense that is making the difference for Cincinnati. They rank in the top five in points allowed in the nation, giving up just 60 a game. Memphis is not a particularly high scoring team – advantage, Bearcats.
Memphis doesn’t have a better claim for their non-conference schedule. They dropped all three of their games against major conference foes by at least nine points, in addition to a loss against UAB.
The Tigers have a secret weapon, though: freshman David Nickelberry. He sat out in the loss to LSU with flu-like symptoms but was just beginning to scratch the surface of his powers. In his previous game, he compiled 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists, propelling him to AAC Rookie of the Week honors.
CINCINNATI — Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said he is concerned about Sunday’s American Athletic Conference opener against Memphis. Not so much because of the Tigers — the Bearcats have won five of the past seven meetings — but rather the circumstances.
Cincinnati hasn’t played since Dec. 21 and now must play a mid-afternoon league game on New Year’s Eve, no less.
“Ten-day layoffs are kind of unheard of in college basketball,” Cronin said. “We had five legitimate off-days, four days of practice to get ready for a game. I’m paranoid about Memphis, because of the layoff. I don’t expect us to be smooth-looking in anything we do on Sunday.”
The Bearcats, who were voted slim favorites to win the league over newcomer Wichita State, have won four straight games. UC leads the all-time series with Memphis 41-33, including a 23-10 mark as the home team. The home team has won the past six meetings, including Cincinnati’s 87-74 victory on Feb. 23, 2017, at Fifth Third Arena.