No. 5 Cincinati hopes to rebound vs. No. 19 Wichita St. (Feb 17, 2018)
Fifth-ranked Cincinnati plays host to No. 19 Wichita State at Northern Kentucky University on Sunday in what will be their first meeting in more than 36 years but first of two encounters in the next two weeks.
The teams were picked to finish first and second, respectively, in a preseason poll of American Athletic Conference coaches with the Shockers needing a victory to pull within a game of the Bearcats in the race for the league title.
Cincinnati (23-3, 12-1 AAC) has fallen in both meetings against teams ranked in the Top 25 this season and the Bearcats dropped their third decision of the season Thursday night at Houston, when they shot 38.6 percent and missed 11 of 15 3-point attempts.
"You learn from it, of course," Cincinnati senior forward Gary Clark said. "We've got another big one coming Sunday."
To prevent a letdown against Wichita State, the Bearcats will need to rebound much better than they did against the Cougars, who finished with a 36-27 advantage on the boards in their 67-62 victory which snapped Cincinnati's 16-game winning streak.
The Shockers (20-5, 10-3) are a pretty solid rebounding squad, ranking second nationally this season with a plus-10.7 rebounding margin.
"We have to fix the problem, because you've got another team that rebounds the ball well," Clark said.
Clark and fellow senior forward Kyle Washington will have to set the tone. The duo is averaging a combined 14.2 rebounds this season and will be counted on to establish an inside presence that was often lacking against Houston.
"We need to play with a lot more toughness and physicality than we have been playing with of late," Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. "(Wichita) has a great, senior-laden team. Teams with seniors and competitors tend to play better late in the year."
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State's 6-foot-8, 279-pound senior center, won't make it an easy task. He's second on the team to sophomore guard Landry Shamet with 13.3 points per game and has three 20-point contests in his last five after dropping in 23 with 13 rebounds Thursday against Temple.
The Shockers' offense has been a major strong suit this season, ranking 11th nationally with 1.202 points per possession, but their defense at times has been a problem - including Thursday, when they allowed 86 points to the Owls, who shot 49.2 percent and made 16 of 29 3-point attempts.
"That's just the way this team is," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said after beating Temple. "I don't know if I'll be able to change it. I think that they are who they are, but they're still pretty good (defensively)."
Wichita State has also played only two Top 25 opponents this season but split its contests, dropping a 67-66 decision to then-No. 13 Notre Dame in the Maui Classic on Nov. 26 and knocking off then-No. 16 Baylor 69-62 on Dec. 2.
Cincinnati and Wichita State used to be members of the Missouri Valley Conference and played regularly from 1957-1970 but the teams are meeting for the first time since 1981. They play again March 4 in Wichita, Kan.