Temple hosts No. 23 Cincinnati in conference opener (Dec 28, 2016)
American Athletic Conference play opens in Philadelphia with a showdown between two of the league's most storied programs.
Cincinnati has been to six straight NCAA tournaments. Temple has been to seven in the last nine years.
And both programs would love to start off league play with another resume-strengthening win as they try to get to March Madness yet again.
The No. 23 Bearcats (10-2) head to Philly on Wednesday night to take on a Temple squad that already has two wins over top-25 teams under its belt, and is looking for a third.
"They're always playing a tough team," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told UCBearcats.com. "It's just hard to sustain doing that every night. You see that they have some really quality wins. When you look at their statistics versus other people, because their schedule is so competitive, their statistics are very real, almost like conference stats. They play better against better people because they're used to playing better people."
Temple (9-4) beat No. 20 Florida State and No. 11 West Virginia on back-to-back days in November, but have also dropped home games to George Washington and New Hampshire.
"We've had some really good wins, we've had some other games that I didn't think we've played our best basketball," head coach Fran Dunphy said.
Cincinnati's two best wins thus far come against Iowa State and Penn State, then a number of mid-major opponents. Its two losses were to No. 13 Butler and Rhode Island.
Sophomore Jacob Evans is enjoying a breakout season for the Bearcats, leading the team with a 15.9-point average. A 6-foot-6 wing from Baton Rouge, La., he is shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range and 54.5 percent overall after averaging 8.4 points as a freshman.
"Evans, I think, is one of the best fine young players in our league," Dunphy said. "He's got the whole package to him, there's no weaknesses in his game."
Cronin was more willing to pick apart his rising star.
"He's learning how to be more aggressive," he told GoBearcats.com. "At times I'm still imploring him to not defer, to get himself more involved. It can't always be me forcing him to get the ball because the other team is going to know what's coming. He's got to be more aggressive in getting himself free."
The Bearcats' on-court leader, however, is senior guard Troy Caupain. A four-year contributor and three-year starter who just surpassed the 1,000-point mark, Caupain is third on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game, leads the squad with 4.5 assists and grabs 5.6 rebounds as well.
They also have good size up front with Gary Clark (10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Kyle Washington (14.4 points, 7.8 rebounds), both 6-foot-9.
"Clark, he's one of my favorite players in the league, to be honest with you, and he's having a good year, and Kyle Washington's having a good year," Dunphy said. "They've got the requisite balance offensively and we have to really pay attention to that."
Temple is led by junior forward Obi Enechionyia (16.2 points, 7.6 rebounds) and sophomore Shizz Alston Jr. (12.6 points, 4.5 assists). Senior guard Josh Brown (7.2 points) has played in five games this season as he recovers from an offseason Achilles injury, but it doesn't sound like he'll be available on Wednesday night.
"He's just trying to make sure he takes care of his body as best he can but he did try a little bit to run last night, he looked OK," Dunphy said. "My guess is he's unlikely to play tomorrow."