The American Athletic Conference title will be on the line Sunday afternoon when the no. 20 Cincinnati Bearcats host the no. 12 Houston Cougars. Houston won the first meeting between these teams 65-58, but the Bearcats are 2-point favorites on Sunday.
The Cougars quickly bounced back from last weekend’s loss to Central Florida with a Thursday night win over SMU. Houston has just two losses on the season, making them 28-2 overall and 15-2 in AAC play. With a win on Sunday, the Cougars will clinch the conference title outright and keep themselves in line for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, possibly sneaking their way up to the 2-line in the Big Dance.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati is also hoping to bounce back from a loss to Central Florida. The Bearcats lost 58-55 to UCF on Thursday, snapping a five-game winning streak. Of course, it was just their fifth loss of the season and third in league play. With a win on Sunday, Cincinnati will share the AAC title with Houston and potentially improve their seed for the NCAA Tournament. Despite having 25 total wins, the Bearcats lack quality wins on their resume.
Get It Together
The Bearcats feature just two players who average double figures in points, most notably Jarron Cumberland, who scores 18 points per game. However, Cumberland is going through a late-season slump. He’s been held to 12 points or less in four of his last five games. Against Central Florida, he had just 10 points on 5 of 18 shooting while also committing five turnovers. The good news is that he went off for 27 points during the first meeting with Houston. But the Bearcats will have a hard time winning if he doesn’t break out of his funk.
In fairness, Cincinnati is strong defensively and doesn’t usually need a ton of offense to win games. But both Cumberland and second-leading scorer Keith Williams are scoring well below their average recently. The Bearcats have enough to survive subpar outings from those players against most AAC teams, but they need those two at the top of their game if they expect to beat Houston.
Brooks is Back
A key part of Houston’s recent loss to Central Florida was the inconsistency of Armoni Brooks, the team’s second-leading scorer. But after being removed from the starting lineup against SMU on Thursday, Brooks exploded off the bench for 20 points. His performance helped the Cougars explode for 90 points, one of their highest point totals of the season, which helped make up for a subpar defensive performance.
If Houston can get Brooks back on track, they can really start to click late in the season. Together, Brooks and leading scorer Corey Davis Jr. average close to 30 points per game. If both are playing at a high level, they are a potent scoring tandem that’s difficult for any opponent to stop, even a defensively stout team like Cincinnati. Davis isn’t usually a concern, but if Brooks can keep it going, the Cougars are a dangerous team.
Cincinnati hasn’t lost at home since their season opener against Ohio State, so being at home will work to their advantage. This figures to be a competitive game, but it’s tough to pick the Bearcats to cover (even two points) given how up and down their offense can be. They didn’t even reach 60 points in their first meeting with Houston, and that was with just four turnovers. Ultimately, the Cougars will find a way to score against a tough Cincinnati defense. Bet on Houston beating Cincinnati as a 2-point underdog.