Piscataway, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - The 15th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats can earn at least a share of the American Athletic Conference regular-season title should they win at Rutgers on Saturday afternoon.
Cincinnati, which comes into the regular-season finale sporting an impressive 25-5 overall record, which includes a 14-3 league ledger, can win the AAC crown outright with a win over the Scarlet Knights coupled with a Louisville loss to Connecticut.
Speaking of Rutgers, it enters this fray having won only once in its last six games. The Knights are 11-19 overall and 5-12 in conference.
Cincinnati is in position to reach its goal of winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference title despite having lost three of its last six games. The Bearcats did manage to stop a two-game slide by taking down Memphis at home on Thursday, 97-84.
Rutgers fell at UConn on Wednesday, 69-63, marking the team's 10th loss in 11 road games this season. The Scarlet Knights have won considerably more games at home (10), but have nearly as many losses (nine). They did come out on top in their most recent outing at the RAC, narrowly topping South Florida last Saturday, 74-73.
Cincinnati has complete control of the all-time series with Rutgers, winning 15 of the 19 previous meetings, including a 71-51 triumph at home earlier this season.
Cincinnati's bread and butter is its ability to play shutdown defense, as the team leads the AAC and ranks in the top-5 nationally with an average yield of 58.1 ppg. The Bearcats are also among the league leaders in several other statistical categories, and they are fortunate to have its top scorer in guard Sean Kilpatrick (20.8 ppg). Justin Jackson (11.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg) is the only other player averaging double digits for a UC squad that is in the favorable position it is despite shooting just 42.7 percent from the floor, including a mere 33 percent from beyond the arc, both of which rank the team next-to-last in the conference.
Kilpatrick went off for 34 points in Cincinnati's recent win over Memphis, and he got help from a Titus Rubles, who had a career night in netting 24 points. The Bearcats shot 53.3 percent from the floor, and went 29-of-38 at the free- throw line in more than doubling their scoring effort from the previous game, a 51-45 loss at UConn. Jackson added 13 points and nine rebounds to the cause, which resulted in the Bearcats claiming scoring advantages in the paint (42-36), off turnovers (20-5) and out on the break (14-8).
While Cincinnati is the league's top defensive team, Rutgers is one of its worst. The Scarlet Knights are permitting more than 76 ppg, with foes finding the bottom of the net on 44.6 percent of their total shots, which includes a 37.4 percent effort from 3-point range. Offensively, the team generates a decent 72.6 ppg, and has three players netting double figures on a consistent basis. Myles Mack leads the way with 15.3 ppg, and Kadeem Jack in hot on his heels with 14.4 ppg, while also spearheading RU's rebounding effort with 6.7 rpg.
Mack tallied 16 points and five assists, and Wally Judge logged a double- double consisting of 13 points and 10 rebounds, but those efforts went for naught as the Scarlet Knights dropped a six-point decision at UConn earlier in the week. J.J. Moore chipped in 11 points for Rutgers, which shot 43.6 percent from the floor, making good on 8-of-18 3-point attempts along the way, while the Huskies drained a dozen treys as part of their 47.2 percent overall shooting effort. RU won the rebounding battle (37-28), but committed 16 turnovers.