CINCINNATI BEARCATS (16-1, 3-1)
at SYRACUSE ORANGE (17-0, 4-0)
Tip-off: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Line: Syracuse -7.5
Normally a team that makes it into the second week of January with a 16-1 record, and a 3-1 mark in league play has developed a following, a flock of believers, worshippers to their early season success. That has not been the case for Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats. Shockingly, victories over powerhouses like Savannah State, IPFW, FAMU, Utah Valley, DePaul and USF have not moved the needle for the skeptics. On the other hand, an 11-point defeat at the hands of Villanova last Sunday, the first ranked team that the Bearcats faced this season, was enough to get the “we told you so” crowd fired up. Playing the 261st toughest schedule in Division I doesn’t help your legitimacy argument. What will change the doubters into believers? How about a conference road win against the No. 4 ranked team in the country? That’s the task before the Bearcats Saturday afternoon when they take on Jim Boeheim’s undefeated Syracuse Orange. Odds.
If there is a certain amount of added pressure that comes with being undefeated this late in the season (see: Blue Devils, Duke for more on this topic) you can’t tell by watching the Orange go about its business. The team has won two straight road games, one against a scrappy undermanned Seton Hall team that saw Syracuse win ugly by five points, a second against an upstart St. John’s team that was run out of its own building by 17. The Orange had the look of a champion in Madison Square Garden, taking an 11-point halftime advantage and never letting the Red Storm back into the game. Syracuse held them to just 36.8% shooting on the night, while forcing the Red Storm into a horrid 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. On the offensive end, forward Kris Joseph’s 18 points led a quartet of Orange players who scored in double figures. Rick Jackson was literally flawless going 6-for-6 from the floor for 12 points while adding 10 rebounds, two blocks, three assists and three steals. With 15 points and four assists, Brandon Triche had one of his better all-around games of the season. Saturday’s showdown is almost guaranteed to be a defensive battle. Cincinnati leads the Big East in scoring defense at 55.6 points, while Syracuse is second at 59.8 and first in field-goal defense at 37.2 percent. Scores.
The Bearcats bounced back nicely from their first loss of the season with a 74-66 home victory over the hard-luck South Florida Bulls. Surprise seasons like this one sometimes requires surprise performances from unexpected sources. Cincinnati got that in the USF win from freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick, who came off the bench to score 18 points, and spark a sluggish offense. His performance spearheaded a huge effort from the Bearcat reserves who combined for 39 points in the win. The bench effort would be key on a night when Cincy’s top scorer, Dion Dixon (12.5 PPG) could only manage 11 points. Dixon, who has been held to single-digit scoring in three of the past six games, will need to resemble a leading scorer again if the Bearcats are to pull off the upset win against the Orange. Saturday kicks off a week of road games that could be a defining stretch for Cincinnati. After taking on the Orange, it’s off to South Bend for a matchup with Notre Dame Wednesday night, then next Saturday they take on St. John’s. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the Bearcats have lost 17 straight road games versus Top-25 competition, earning their last such win in January 2004 versus Marquette, back when both teams were still competing in Conference USA.
Since 2006, the Orange are 5-2 SU (4-3 ATS) in the seven meetings with Cincinnati, and this five-star FoxSheets trend also thinks Syracuse will win and cover the spread. Las Vegas odds.
CINCINNATI is 1-13 ATS (-13.3 Units) after failing to cover 2 of their last 3 against the spread over the last 2 seasons. The average score was CINCINNATI 64.5, OPPONENT 69.5 – (Rating = 5*).