No. 7 Cincinnati isn't going to light up the scoreboard. That's just not the Bearcats' style. Sure, Sean Kilpatrick can put up 20 points without breaking a sweat, but you'll still rarely see Cincinnati crack much more than 70 points in a game.
Mick Cronin's squad instead kills you with its defense. Cincinnati yields just 56.7 points per game and ranks fifth in the nation in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive rankings.
That makes their Thursday showdown with No. 22 Connecticut the most intriguing game of the night. The Huskies are led by a duo of quick and flashy guards who can both shoot or create for their teammates. Shabazz Napier might be the AAC player of the year (if it isn't Kilpatrick). The senior is the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring (17.9 ppg), rebounding (6.0 rpg), assists (5.7 apg) and steals (1.9 spg). Napier's backcourt counterpart, Ryan Boatright, is a junior who has struggled with consistency, but has turned it on lately. He's hit double figures in scoring in each conference game but one this season, including a 19-point performance in the Huskies' AAC-opening loss at Houston.
But the key to the game may be DeAndre Daniels. If the UConn forward is able to play -- he's been battling back spasms and an ankle injury -- he could be a nightmare defensively for the Bearcats. At 6'9, he can get to the rim with ease and finish under control, but also step out and shoot the three. His 47.8 percent mark from deep is second on the team, and the Huskies as a whole lead the AAC in three-point shooting percentage by a wide margin. Head coach Kevin Ollie said there is about a 75 percent chance that Daniels will play on Thursday.
Of course Kilpatrick will be the Huskies' main priority on defense. 6'4 guards from New York are rarely easy to contain, and the Cincinnati senior is no different. Him and Napier will likely go head-to-head all night, turning the game into a contest of drives, step-backs, jumpers and even free throws.
But while Kilpatrick and Napier could each take over the game at any given moment, the Bearcats' biggest advantage might come from forward Justin Jackson. He's averaging 11.3 points and seven rebounds per game and has posted six double-doubles this season. The UConn frontcourt, anchored underneath by freshman Amidah Brimah and sophomore Phillip Nolan, lacks experience and has been prone to foul trouble. Daniels could make a huge difference if he plays, but the Huskies will also have to account for Titus Rubles, who provides Jackson a strong compliment inside.
It might take strong games from both Rubles and Jackson, as will as a typical dazzling performance from Kilpatrick to keep Cincinnati unbeaten in the AAC, but that doesn't seem like too much to ask. The Bearcats already won at Memphis and at Louisville, so they don't exactly shy away from challenges.
The Bearcats and Huskies will tip off at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Oregon at No. 2 Arizona, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN
The No. 2 team in the country facing an unranked squad at home might not sound like the greatest game, but upon further examination, this one could tell a lot about the Wildcats going forward in 2014.
Not only is Arizona coming off its first loss of the season, a last-second defeat at Cal, but this will be the Wildcats' first game since losing Brandon Ashley for the year to a foot injury. Ashley was Arizona's third leading scorer and rebounder, and had started all 22 games for the Wildcats this season.
To make things a little more difficult for the Wildcats, they will be facing a team desperate for a quality win. After a 13-0 start, the Ducks have plummeted. They've dropped seven of their last nine and stumbled to a 3-6 start in the Pac-12 with no quality wins to speak of.
Penn State at No. 9 Michigan State, 9 p.m., ESPN2/WatchESPN
The Spartans return home after being upset by Georgetown over the weekend, and Tom Izzo's crew will look to make quick work of the lowly Nittany Lions.
But although Penn State is just 3-6 in the Big Ten and 12-10 overall, Big Ten teams have been able to take nothing for granted this year. Northwestern has won at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Nebraska has beaten Ohio State, and even the Nittany Lions have gotten in on the fun, defeating the Buckeyes and, most recently, Purdue.
To avoid falling victim to the upset bug again, the Spartans will need to handle Penn State's backcourt duo of D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier. They both average north of 16 points per game and have been a big reason why the Nittany Lions have won three straight games.