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Opponent Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats

Mississippi State faces a tough home test against Cincinnati.

The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar

No. 18 Mississippi State (8-1) will be tested tonight as it hosts the defending AAC champions Cincinnati Bearcats (9-1). The Bulldogs are riding a five-game win streak, while UC hasn’t lost since its season opener against Ohio State. A win from either team will be considered a good one, and it’s shaping to be a good matchup.

This game, like the Clemson one, will test how Ben Howland’s team will face against potential tournament teams. The Bearcats have made the NCAA Tournament for the past eight years, making the Sweet 16 once.

These two teams met last season, where Jacob Evans’ 24 points lifted Cincinnati to a 65-50 win. Cincy had a lot more firepower on the offensive end with Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Gary Clark. This year, they’re without those three players and it’s in Stark Vegas.

With the loss of three star players, Jarron Cumberland has been called to rise and be the main guy. Cumberland averages 15.3 points and 3.2 assists per game and not only is able to drive the ball, but he can knock down shots from three-point range. Tre Scott and Keith Williams, who put up 10.9 and 10.7 points per game, respectively, are the only other double-digit scorers on the team.

Mick Cronin coaches his team to play very physical defense and wear teams down. The Bearcats are fourth in the nation in the points against category, only allowing 56.4 points per game. According to KenPom, they’re 16th in adjusted defensive efficiency, while State is 25th.

This game has the tools to be a defensive battle. If the Bulldogs keep their hot shooting from the win against Clemson, they’ll be in good shape. Cincinnati doesn’t blow teams out, they tear them down and make opponents tired with physical play. The issue for MSU is that they’ll have to fight for every point, because the Bearcats won’t let off on defense. Plus, Cincinnati is riding high after a 62-47 win over fierce rivals Xavier, and find themselves hovering around the top-25.

Three quick stats

All time series: 3-2 in favor of Cincinnati.

Average points per game: UC: 73.3, MSU: 78.2

Spread: MSU (-2.5), over/under 129.5 (OddsShark)

Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. (CT) and can be viewed on the SEC Network, which is available to stream on WatchESPN.