By Sam Draut
The 15th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats have been the surprise of the inaugural season in the American Conference, posting an 18-2 record and sitting atop the conference at 7-0.
The Mick Cronin-coached Bearcats hold the highest RPI ranking in the American Conference and also include signature wins against Pittsburgh and Memphis.
U of L hosts Cincinnati Thursday night at the KFC YUM! Center, sitting two games back of the Bearcats. Louisville is in sole possession of second place with a 6-1 conference record. Cincinnati comes to Louisville riding an 11-game winning streak.
Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick leads the Bearcats in scoring with 18.6 points per game. Kilpatrick, one of the premier players in the American Conference, has averaged 11.8 points in four career games against Louisville.
Cincinnati has two perimeter players who can stretch a defense alongside of Kilpatrick. Trey Caupain averages 6.8 points per game and shoots 42.1 percent from behind the three point line, while Jermaine Sanders averages 6.5 points per game and shoots 42.9 percent from three.
Tough, gritty and physical basketball has defined the Bearcat program for years. This season around the rim, senior forward Justin Jackson averages 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Titus Rubles contributes with 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
A defense-oriented team, Cincinnati holds opponents to just 55.9 points per game while scoring 70.8 points. The Bearcats average 8.6 steals and 6.3 blocks per game.
Cronin served as an assistant under Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville from 2001-2003, taking the head coaching position at Cincinnati in 2006. Since then, the two have met nine times. Pitino holds a slight edge of 5-4.
Cincinnati has not won in Louisville since the KFC YUM! Center opened, their last road victory against the Cardinals was in 2008.
After having eight days between games, Louisville comes into the arena against Cincinnati riding a four-game winning streak, including two road victories against Connecticut and USF.
Chris Jones has missed three games with an oblique injury, but looks to return to the lineup. The junior guard is averaging 11.3 points per game and is second on the team with 31 steals.
Wayne Blackshear will look to continue to stay hot–over the past three games he is averaging 16 points per game. Blackshear started the first 17 games of the season, but has excelled off the bench in the previous three games.