Defense Will Keep SMU Close Against 6th-Ranked Cincinnati

Doug Upstone

Sunday, February 11, 2018 2:21 PM UTC

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 2:21 PM UTC

When looking at the conference standings in college basketball, you know how you can tell who the really good teams are? It's those that take care of their business, no matter how games start.

Sunday College Basketball: Cincinnati vs. SMUFree NCAAB Pick: SMU +8Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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Cincinnati is one such team that has gone about its business in the proper manner and is 11-0 (8-3 ATS) in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats are similar to Virginia in terms of consistency and have not gotten rattled since losing to Xavier and Florida in the early part of December. Cincy is traveling to Dallas to face SMU, who will try and be a giant-killer.

The college basketball odds have the Bearcats as eight-point road favorites, and this will be an excellent road test for a club that is 6-1 (4-3 ATS) in true away games.

Cincinnati Plays on Even Keel With Laser Focus

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Cincinnati is 22-2 (13-8 ATS) and is riding a 15-game winning streak. The Bearcats are crushing opposing teams by 20.4 points a game and follow coach Mick Cronin's plan. Though many teams talk about having a defensive mindset, Cincinnati actually plays that way and is second in the country in points surrendered at 56.1 PPG. As per usual, this squad is tough and physical and is in the top 15 in rebounding.

The Bearcats personify what all the best teams that are or near the top 5 in the rankings have, and that's veteran leadership. Senior forwards Gary Clark (12.9 PPG) and Kyle Washington (11.3 PPG) are the pillars, and junior Jacob Evans in the team's leading scoring at 13.7 PPG. This trio is different from past Cincy team's whose best offense was retrieving missed shots and connecting on at least 40 percent of three-point shots.

SMU Will Need One of Those Games to Win or Cover

The Mustangs came into the year already short-handed because of NCAA infractions under former coach Larry Brown (again); they had just 10 available scholarships. Injuries have also plagued the Ponies and just trying to have 5-on-5 practices has not always been easy. This has all contributed to SMU having a 15-9 record (9-10 ATS) and a middle-of-the-pack placement in the AAC.

That does not mean the Mustangs are not capable of special games, as twice in their past six outings they have shot better than 60 percent. One of those times they took down then-No. 7 Wichita State at their place, 83-78 as 9.5-point underdogs. Chances are they will need one of those efforts and play the same kind of defense, which has them in the top 10 in points allowed at 62.5 per contest.

AAC Action Winner

Cincinnati being this large a favorite for college basketball picks is hard to swallow, although it is justified. SMU is without its two top scorers, Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster. However, given the Mustangs defense and playing at home, look for an all-out effort from a desperate team. Cincy wins but fails to cover.

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