To further increase its lead atop the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati would have to become the first team to win at SMU this season.
The seventh-ranked Bearcats will also try for their first 16-game win streak in 12 seasons when they meet the Mustangs on Saturday night.Behind one of the nation's best defenses and the high-scoring Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati (22-2, 11-0) has a 2 1/2-game lead over No. 14 Louisville in the AAC. The Cardinals, idle this weekend, will visit the Bearcats on Feb. 22.SMU (18-5, 7-3) is in third place and has beaten two Top 25 opponents during its 12-0 start at home, its best since beginning 13-0 in the 1999-2000 season.The Mustangs topped then-No. 17 Connecticut 74-65 on Jan. 4 and then-No. 22 Memphis 87-72 last Saturday, bolstering their chances for their first NCAA tournament berth since 1993."I'm just hopeful we can build this and make it special," coach Larry Brown said. "There's no reason why we can't be a premier program. We've just got to get people to believe in what we're doing."This game matches the best defenses in the AAC. SMU is allowing the second-fewest points per game in the conference (61.3) behind Cincinnati's 56.8, which ranks fourth nationally. However, the Mustangs are second in the nation in opponents' field-goal percentage at 36.8, ahead of the Bearcats' 38.6.Cincinnati struggled against the SMU defense on Jan. 1, shooting 36.5 percent overall and 4 of 16 from 3-point range in a 65-57 win in its AAC debut. The Bearcats hit 23 of 31 from the foul line while the Mustangs were 8 of 9.Kilpatrick was 3 of 12 from the field and had 13 points, well below his conference-best 19.7 average.Cincinnati wasn't ranked for that game, but now the Mustangs are looking to end a 31-game slide against Top 10 teams that dates to an 82-76 win over No. 7 Florida on Dec. 3, 1987.The Bearcats are riding their second 15-game winning streak in four seasons but haven't had a longer one since a 20-game run in 2001-02. This is their best start since winning 26 of 28 that same season, and their league record is their best since finishing 16-0 in 1999-2000 in Conference USA.Cincinnati has earned five road wins during AAC play, but the last four have been by an average of 3.8 points.Kilpatrick has scored a combined 57 in the past two road wins. He had 26 points along with a career-high 12 rebounds in a 63-58 home win over No. 22 Connecticut on Thursday."The mark of a great player is them rising to the occasion, and he has the ability to do that," coach Mick Cronin said. "He is playing very smart and shooting well from the floor."SMU earned its seventh win in eight games Thursday by blowing out visiting Temple 75-52. The Mustangs held the Owls to 30.3 percent shooting, the lowest by an opponent this season, while topping 54.0 percent in a second straight game.Markus Kennedy tied Shawn Williams for the team scoring lead with 14 points. Kennedy, the team's second-leading scorer (12.2 ppg), was the only SMU player in double figures in the loss at Cincinnati with 12 points.Nic Moore, averaging 13.7 points, was held to nine in the Mustangs' third loss in four all-time matchups.Cincinnati is making its first visit to SMU.
Before this season, SMU hadn't won against a ranked opponent since 2003. This season, in the first 4 games against ranked teams since Larry Brown became the SMU head coach, the Mustangs have won 3 of those 4 games, including their win against a top-10 opponent since 1987. The Mustangs have 3 wins against ranked teams in the same season for the first time in 29 years.