Cincinnati is one of the nation's surprises, and Louisville is the defending National Champion. The Bearcats are 8-0 in the AAC, and the Cardinals are 6-1. Louisville is 13th in the nation in points per game; Cincinnati is fifth in scoring defense. They are both led by senior guards who could make an argument for conference player of the year.
Something has to give on Thursday.
The Bearcats come into the game winners of 12 straight and boast wins over Pitt, SMU and, most impressively, Memphis on the road. With a 4-1 record in true road games, the 22,000-plus that cram into the KFC Yum! Center probably won't faze them.
On the court, Cincinnati has the pieces to handle the defending champs. Louisville thrives on a high-powered offense, led by Russ Smith and Chris Jones in the backcourt, and Montrezl Harrell up front. However, as a team, the Bearcats defend as well as anyone in the country. In fact, their near-disaster last Sunday against Temple was the first time they had given up 70 or more points in a non-overtime game in over a calendar year.
In order to keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard, the key might be on the glass. Harrell pulls down 8.5 rebounds per game, 3.2 of them on the offensive end. Those opportunities inside are a big reason why he shoots an absurd 62 percent from the field.
Cincinnati got some good news on the injury front on Tuesday. Forward Justin Jackson, who hurt his ankle in the Temple game, said he was good to go. The senior is averaging 11 points and seven rebounds per contest. The Bearcats will need to be at full strength to neutralize one of the league's best big men.
The Cardinals also got word this week that one of their top players will be ready to go. Jones has been out since Jan. 12 with an oblique injury, but Rick Pitino says he will play:
"He's 100 percent and he's practicing well," Pitino said during his pregame address on Wednesday. "He won't start, but only because we don't usually start guys coming off of injuries."
The game, which could determine the regular season-championship in the American, tips off at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
No. 3 Florida Gators @ Mississippi State Buldogs, 7 p.m., ESPN2/WatchESPN
No team in the SEC is as hot as the Gators, who have not lost since Dec. 2. Florida needs to survive at Mississippi State. The Gators have narrowly avoided three upsets on the road in conference games so far, and the Bulldogs might pose their toughest SEC road challenge yet.
Mississippi State is 3-3 in the conference with all three victories coming at home. The Bulldogs are led by a young core, with promise at just about every position. Craig Sword is shooting 51 percent from the floor this season to give him a team-best 13.9 points per game. Gavin Ware does the bulk of the work inside, and though he's been slumping lately, he showed his potential with a 22-point, 10-rebound outburst a couple weeks ago against Texas A&M.
Ware will also be in the middle of the most intriguing matchup of the game when he goes up against Dorian Finney-Smith. The sophomore Finney-Smith is just a few games removed from his best performance as a Gator when he scored 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds against Arkansas on Jan. 11.
After a 6-4 start to the season, made worse by losing All-American Mitch McGary to injury, few could have predicted the surge that would follow for the Michigan Wolverines. But Michigan has won its last nine games and last weekend became the first team in over a decade to knock off three straight top-10 teams.
The Wovlerines' hot streak has come largely thanks to the play of Nik Stauskas, who has built off an impressive freshman season with a sophomore campaign that's putting him in the discussion for Big Ten player of the year. He's scored 20 or more points nine times this season and shot 12-24 from three over Michigan's recent three-team, top-10 conquest.
Purdue, meanwhile, is fighting to find consistency in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers lost their first two in the conference before winning three straight, then dropping two more. Ann Arbor isn't typically the best place for a visiting team to snap a losing streak, but Matt Painter's club will do its best behind senior guard Terone Johnson. Johnson has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games while routinely dishing out assists and rebounding well for his size.
The rest of the nationally televised games (all times Eastern):
Bryant Bulldogs @ Robert Morris Colonials, 8 p.m., ESPNU/WatchESPN
USC Trojans @ Oregon State Beavers, 9 p.m., Pac-12
St. Mary's Gaels @ San Diego Toreros, 10 p.m., ESPNU/WatchESPN