NCAA Basketball Predictions for Louisville vs. Cincinnati

Willie Bee

Friday, February 21, 2014 4:13 PM GMT

It won't get near the hype as the Syracuse-Duke matchup taking place later Saturday evening, but the battle between the Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats is every bit as important in the grand scheme of things. So which side of the betting line should we ride?

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Queen City's Fifth Third Arena hosts the showdown of the top two teams in the American Athletic Conference, and CBS' cameras will be on hand to provide the pictures. Still more than 24 hours in advance of the game, college basketball odds have yet to be released.

Cincinnati has a 1.5-game lead over Louisville at the top of the conference standings, and sits No. 7 in the AP Poll, No. 9 according to the Coaches. The Cardinals come in No. 5 in the Coaches Poll, but six rungs lower in the AP.

The 99th meeting between the Bearcats and Cardinals is the second this season, and we very well could get a 100th matchup in the series once the AAC Tournament rolls around in a few weeks. Louisville hosted the first clash on Jan. 30 when the Cards were favored by 8.5 to 9 points, only to drop a 69-66 decision to the 'Cats. The final skipped past the total to halt a 6-game string of 'under' winners between the two squads.

Cincinnati trails in the series, 55-43, but has won four of the last six and owns a 24-21 edge vs. the Cardinals at home.

Cards Perfect On AAC Road

Louisville (22-4 straight up, 13-10-1 against the spread) has reeled off five consecutive victories since the setback to Cincinnati, and Rick Pitino's gang has proven to be a most inhospitable guest by winning all six conference road tilts heading into Saturday's matchup. The defending national champions have managed to cover the last four wins, each game carrying a -14 spread or higher.

The latest victory came Tuesday night at home with an 80-54 rout of the South Florida Bulls. It might as well have been the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals the way the Cardinals toyed with the Bulls. Favored by 23, Louisville closed the first half on a 12-3 run to leave little in doubt.

Tuesday's triumph marked the fourth time during the 5-game win streak that Louisville reached the 80-point plateau. Only 10 teams are averaging more points per game than the Cardinals' 83.2 clip, with Russ Smith's 17.8 scoring mark topping four Cardinals putting up double-figures per outing.

But Louisville has struggled against ranked opponents this season, losing all four of its previous matchups and scoring just over 70 points per game.

'Cats Begin 3-Game Stretch Vs. Ranked Teams

Cincinnati (23-3 SU, 10-10 ATS) hasn't dwelled on its only loss in conference play two weeks ago at SMU, getting right back into the win column with victories over Houston at home last weekend and then thrashing Central Florida a couple of nights ago. Mick Cronin's crew held the Knights to 49 points to easily cover a 7 point spread and snap a string of four spread defeats.

Whereas Louisville is at its best on the offensive end of the floor, the Bearcats do their best work on defense. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the country allowing 57.4 points per game, that figure up less than a point during conference play, and also sits in the top 20 letting opponents sink less than 40% of their field goal attempts.

It's been just about two years since these two played on this floor, and the Bearcats came away with a 60-56 win as 2 point favorites. It has been more than a year since Cincinnati dropped a home game, winning all 17 this season, and I like the 'Cats to keep that string alive as small chalk on Saturday for our college basketball picks.

College Basketball Pick: Lean Cincinnati