Men's Basketball: Huskies head to first-place Cincinnati for AAC showdown
No one expected the Cincinnati Bearcats to be in this position, undefeated through 10 games in the American Athletic Conference.
It was supposed to be a three-headed race between the defending national champion Louisville, Memphis and UConn. Cincinnati was picked to finish behind all three of them, at least that's what the preseason coaches' poll said.
Instead, the Bearcats are having the best start in 12 years at 21-2. They lead the American by 2.5 games and just earned their highest AP ranking under head coach Mick Cronin's eight-year tenure there at No. 7 this week.
Both Louisville and Memphis tried taking down Cincinnati and failed. UConn will take its shot on Thursday, and they will do that as a ranked team for the first time since Jan. 8.
After winning six of the last seven games, UConn returned to the AP ranking this week at No. 22. The Huskies currently stand at 5-3 in the conference and four games behind the Bearcats, but they will get a chance to make up that ground when they visit Fifth Third Arena to take on their first Top-10 team of the season.
Though beating Cincinnati on the road won't be easy, as the Bearcats are a perfect 15-0 at home. Seniors Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson lead the team with 19.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, respectively. Kilpatrick was also selected on the preseason All-Conference team alongside UConn's Shabazz Napier.
Meanwhile on paper, the Huskies look like the better team as they hold advantages in points per game, assists per game and field goal percentage, with both teams tied for 36.8 rebounds per game. Yet, Cincinnati continues to find ways to win games, surviving a furious Louisville rally, 69-66, last Thursday and holding off USF, 50-45, on Sunday.
In order for the Huskies to pull off the upset, DeAndre Daniels' status is vital. The junior is the second-leading scorer on the team with 13.4 ppg but sprained his ankle two weeks ago at Rutgers.
According to UConn coach Kevin Ollie, Daniels' ankle is about "85 percent," but that the forward has also had back spasms in the last few days, and his chance of playing Thursday is about "75 percent."
Last season, the teams split the season series with each claiming a win at home, but UConn holds the edge in the all-time series at 8-4.
The game will be televised on ESPN and the tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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