Cincinnati, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - A Top 25 showdown is on tap in the American Athletic Conference on Thursday night, as the seventh-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats play host to the 22nd-ranked Connecticut Huskies.
Mick Cronin's Bearcats are off to the best start in his eight years at the helm and the team's best overall start since the 2001-02 campaign. Cincinnati is an impressive 21-2 on the season, has won 14 straight games and is a perfect 10-0 in conference play thus far. The team is also enjoying a 17-game homecourt winning streak, including all 15 matchups at Fifth Third Arena this year. The Bearcats kept all those streak intact on Sunday, with a hard-fought 50-45 victory over USF.
Kevin Ollie's Huskies are still within striking distance in the league standings, sitting at a decent 5-3. Connecticut has won three straight games and six of its last seven overall, including an 80-43 rout of Houston last week.
UConn holds an 8-4 series advantage against Cincinnati, including a 4-1 mark in true road games. These teams split a pair of meetings last season, each winning on its home floor.
Ollie has mixed things up in terms of the starting rotation for Connecticut as he tries to find the right pieces up front to balance out the guard play of All-American candidate Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. One of the most complete and versatile guards in the nation, Napier has the ability to do it all, leading the team in scoring (17.9 ppg), rebounding (6.0 rpg), assists (5.7 apg) and steals (39). Boatright is a nice complement alongside Napier at 12.4 ppg. DeAndre Daniels (13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is the most productive player up front, although he is currently nursing an ankle injury and is questionable for this contest.
Daniels wasn't needed in the lopsided win over Houston. The Huskies owned a hefty 55-40 rebounding edge en route to the victory. Four players notched double figures for Connecticut, led by Napier's 19 points. Boatright finished with 15 points, while Niels Giffey and Phillip Nolan chipped in with 10 points apiece.
All-American candidate Sean Kilpatrick fought through illness and despite going just 5-of-16 from the floor, was able to score the last eight points for Cincinnati in its five-point win over the Bulls. The entire Cincinnati team struggled to find an offensive rhythm, shooting a mere .333 from the floor. Kilpatrick finished with a game-high 18 points in the win. Justin Jackson netted 15 points in support.
Offensive outbursts are not the norm for the Bearcats, who rely much more on their defensive tenacity to win games. Cincinnati is among the nation's best in both scoring defense (56.7 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.386), while owning positives in both rebounding margin (+4.8) and turnover margin (+4.0). The team doesn't have many offensive weapons, although Kilpatrick is certainly one, leading the conference in scoring at 19.4 ppg. Jackson has asserted himself as a force down low, averaging 11.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. Titus Rubles doesn't add much in terms of scoring (7.3 ppg), but is another asset on the glass (6.4 rpg).