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CINCINNATI BEARCATS (14-4, 4-1 Big East) at CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (14-3, 4-2 Big East)
Tip-Off: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. EDT
Line: Connecticut -7, Total: 129.5
No. 13 UConn looks to extend its winning streak to three and remain unbeaten at home when they host Cincinnati on Wednesday night in Storrs.
The Bearcats have bounced back nicely since the well-documented brawl with Xavier on December 10, and are 4-1 ATS on the road this year, including a 68-64 win at Georgetown last Monday. Cincinnati is comfortable playing in close games, with four of its five Big East games decided by four points or less. The Huskies have covered their past two games and look to build off an impressive 67-53 road win over Notre Dame on Saturday. Connecticutís backcourt will be very thin though, as freshman guard Ryan Boatright sits out for the second game in a row due to an ongoing NCAA investigation regarding potential rules violations. Both teams rely heavily on guard play, but UConn holds a significant advantage in the frontcourt with a +6 rebound margin compared to Cincyís minus-0.1 RPG. The Bearcats will hit shots and keep this game close early on, but look for the Huskies to limit second-chance opportunities on the glass and pull away late. CONNECTICUT is the pick to win and cover.
The Bearcats are a veteran team with their top four leading scorers from last season all back in the lineup this year. Physical sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick (16.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG) leads the way for Cincinnati, along with senior guard Dion Dixon (14.1 PPG). Cincy ranks fifth in the Big East from behind the arc, shooting 36.8% from three-point range. The Bearcats will need to hit these jumpers against UConnís poor perimeter defense thatís allowing opponents to convert at a 41.1 percent clip. The Bearcats must get a big game from embattled forward Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG), who will have the unenviable task of guarding UConnís dangerous inside tandem of Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond.
UConn looks to be gaining some steam coming off its most impressive win of the season at Notre Dame. The loss of Boatright definitely hurts the Huskiesí backcourt depth, leaving Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) and Shabazz Napier (13.9 PPG, 6.2 APG) as the only formidable guards in the rotation. Napier must stay out of foul trouble, otherwise the Huskies will be without any true point guard. Now more than ever, Jim Calhoun will need his big men to play up to their potential. Freshman phenom Andre Drummond (10.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG) looks more and more comfortable every game and has posted double-doubles in back-to-back games. The enigma that is junior forward Alex Oriakhi (7.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG) continues to be a mystery, but he had a strong performance against Notre Dame with 12 points and seven boards. The sooner Oriakhi and Drummond learn to co-exist down low, the more likely it becomes for the Huskies to make their third Final Four trip in four years.
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