Viewer's Guide: Cincinnati, Louisville battle for AAC supremacy

Wayne Blackshear is averaging 11.5 points in wins -- and just 2.3 points in losses. (USATSI)
Wayne Blackshear is averaging 11.5 points in wins -- and just 2.3 points in losses. (USATSI)

This week has had terrific college basketball action every night, and last night was no different. Kansas beat Iowa State, Arizona barely stayed unbeaten, Arizona State and California went to overtime, etc. Thursday is shaping up to be a solid night as well, highlighted by a top-15 battle in the AAC.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.

Best game: No. 13 Cincinnati at No. 12 Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN). A battle between teacher and pupil. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin was an associate head coach for two seasons under Rick Pitino at Louisville back in 2002 and 2003 – and now both teams can make an AAC statement with a victory. Cincinnati hasn’t lost in 12 games, while Louisville has won six of seven in the league. This game will feature two of the best defensive teams in the country. The key for Cincinnati getting a road win will be slowing down the tempo and not letting Russ Smith, Chris Jones and the Cardinals get in transition. Moreover, they will need scoring from other players besides Sean Kilpatrick – the return from injury of Justin Jackson will also be a big boost inside. Louisville has to keep the Bearcats off the offensive glass.

Second-best game: UCLA at Oregon (9 p.m., ESPN2). After Arizona, the Pac-12 is wide-open – but UCLA has emerged as arguably the second-best team in the league. The Bruins have to prove it on the road swing to the Oregon schools, though. The Ducks snapped their five-game losing streak last weekend, beating Washington State on the road by 27. A win over UCLA would do wonders for their momentum (and at-large profile). There should be plenty of points in this one, as both teams like to push it once they get the ball. The Ducks have to take care of the ball – and not let UCLA get to the rim in transition. Moreover, UCLA is susceptible on the perimeter – Oregon should see open shots.

Another one to watch: Providence at Marquette (7 p.m., FOX Sports 1). Providence has been playing some of the best basketball in the Big East the last month, winning five in a row – including huge home wins over Creighton and Xavier the last two weekends. Now the Friars head on the road to face a Marquette team that has disappointed this season – but still has the pieces to get a win. Couple of notes about the Golden Eagles: they have alternated wins and losses since a December 17 win over Ball State, a stretch that spans 10 games. (They lost to Villanova on Saturday.) Also, Marquette’s last three games have gone to overtime.

Guaranteed win: Abilene Christian at Stephen F. Austin (9 p.m.). Stephen F. Austin thrived under former head coach Danny Kaspar, winning at least 20 games in five of the last six seasons and reaching the postseason three times in that span. With Kaspar leaving for Texas State in the spring, the Lumberjacks were expected to take a step back under Brad Underwood. That hasn’t happened; SFA has won 15 win in a row and is 7-0 in the Southland. It will destroy Abilene Christian on Thursday.

Potential upset: Saint Mary’s at San Diego (10 p.m., ESPNU). San Diego’s last five games have all been decided by four points or fewer, with the Toreros winning two of those contests. The most impressive part is that four of those games were on the road – now San Diego returns home for four straight games. Saint Mary’s has won four in a row and six of seven, but the Gaels have had six straight home games – they will fall on the road. Also, watch the Conference USA battle between Louisiana Tech and UTEP (9:05 p.m.). 

Three other things to keep an eye on:

  1. Chattanooga has been one of the biggest surprises of the mid-major world, as former VCU assistant Will Wade has brought CHAOS to the Mocs. They travel to Davidson on Thursday (7 p.m.).
  2. UC Santa Barbara’s Alan Williams is one of the nation’s most underappreciated players – he goes against 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye and UC Irvine (10 p.m.).
  3. First place in the Northeast Conference is on the line when Bryant travels to Robert Morris (8 p.m., ESPNU).

Other games to watch:

  • No. 3 Florida at Mississippi State (7 p.m., ESPN2)
  • Canisius at Quinnipiac (7:30 p.m.)
  • North Dakota State at South Dakota (8 p.m.)
  • Utah Valley at Texas-Pan American (8 p.m.)
  • Indiana at Nebraska (8:15 p.m., Big Ten Network)
  • Weber State at Northern Arizona (8:30 p.m.)
  • Houston at Connecticut (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
  • Purdue at No. 10 Michigan (9 p.m., ESPN)
  • Pacific at BYU (9 p.m.)
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