No. 10 Cincinnati, No. 11 Wichita St. clash for No. 1 seed

No. 10 Cincinnati travels to No. 11 Wichita State on Sunday with the American Athletic Conference regular-season title at stake in Wichita, Kan.

The Bearcats (26-4, 15-2 AAC) own a one-game lead over the Shockers (24-5, 14-3). A win Sunday would clinch the top seed in the AAC Tournament for Cincinnati and avenge an earlier loss to Wichita State.

The Shockers would earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament if they complete a season sweet of the Bearcats.

“It’s hard to win a conference,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said on his postgame radio show after the Bearcats beat Tulane on Thursday. “So for us it’s something that we’re extremely proud of and we don’t take it lightly.”

Wichita State point guard Landry Shamet scored 19 points in a 76-72 win at Cincinnati on Feb. 18.

The Shockers shot 52.9 percent from the floor against defensive-minded Cincinnati, snapping the Bearcats’ 39-game home winning streak, which was the longest in the nation at the time. Cincinnati enters Sunday’s game ranked second in the nation in scoring defense.

Wichita State is in its first season in the AAC. The Shockers had been members of the Missouri Valley Conference since 1945, before deciding to depart for the AAC.

They got off to a hot start to their first year in the conference, winning their first five AAC games, and managed to bounce back from an up-and-down stretch midway through the season that saw them lose three of five games. They’ve since won seven in a row, including a hard-fought 75-71 overtime win at Central Florida on Thursday.

“In order to be a championship team, they needed to beat UCF on the road … and they were tough enough mentally and physically to deal with all of that and make it happen,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.

The Bearcats had a much easier time in their last game. Cincinnati crushed Tulane 78-49 to set up Sunday’s showdown with the Shockers. Kyle Washington had 16 points, and the Bearcats held Tulane to just 31.4 percent shooting.

“Our focus immediately turned to trying to find a way to win this game Sunday for a lot of reasons,” Cronin said. “You don’t want to lose to the same team twice. You want to win the championship outright, and if you can beat a team of their caliber on the road, what that does for your RPI, what that does for your (NCAA Tournament) seeding.”

Marshall said beating Cincinnati for a second time and earning a share of the AAC regular-season title would be a well-deserved reward for his senior-laden team.

“It would mean that this two and a half months we proved to be one of the best, if not the best team in the league,” Marshall said. “That’s good, especially like I said, that we moved up a couple of weight classes and these guys met the challenge.

“Our players will give it their all. I’m sure the crowd will give it their all. It should be a wonderful atmosphere here on Sunday. We’re going to have to play really well.”