Bearcats host Panthers in clash of ranked Big East rivals

The 17th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats will try to rebound from a tough loss as they open up a three-game homestand with a Big East Conference clash against the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers at Fifth Third Arena.

The Panthers are riding a wave of momentum into this contest with wins in six of their last eight games. The most recent accomplishment was a 56-46 victory against Seton Hall which came on the heels of a 65-55 win over then No. 6 Syracuse. Pittsburgh is 19-5 overall, while sporting a 7-4 mark in league play, tied with St. John's for fifth in the standings. Pittsburgh has been decent on the road with a record of 3-2 in five trips but will play another away contest next Saturday against Marquette.

Cincinnati went into Providence on Wednesday and came out on the short end of a 54-50 decision. The loss ended a stretch in which the Bearcats had won five of six contests with the lone loss a two-point setback against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Cincinnati is now 18-5 overall and likely to drop in the national rankings come Monday. At Fifth Third Area, where they will play their next two games as well, the Bearcats are 10-3.

This is a rematch of battle on New Year's Eve when Cincinnati captured a 70-61 win on the road. That was the second straight for Cincinnati against the Panthers, who have won seven of the last 10 matchups overall. In terms of the al-time series this season's win pushed the Bearcats ahead, 9-8.

Jamie Dixon's squad put forth another strong effort on the defensive end to take care of Seton Hall. The Panthers allowed the Pirates to collect just seven field goals in each half, while holding them to 33.3 percent shooting overall. The Panthers shot just 34.8 percent themselves but created extra possessions with a 15-7 edge in offensive rebounds and a 40-28 advantage in boards overall.

Locking up the opposition has been normal procedure for Pittsburgh this season. The Panthers are allowing the fifth fewest points per game in the country (54.5 ppg), while ranking among the top 20 teams nationally in opponent assists (9.8 pg) and rebounds (27.5 pg). The Panthers have countered by shooting .484 from the floor, while handing out 17.2 apg. The efficiency has been headlined by the play of Tray Woodall (10.8 ppg, 5.4 apg) who is not only the top scorer on the roster, but its lead distributor. Talib Zanna (10.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Lamar Patterson (10.2 ppg, 3.2 apg) also average in double figures though the Panthers prefer a more spread out attack.

In its loss to Providence, Cincinnati trailed by as many as 13 points late in the second half. The Bearcats ripped off a 12-0 run down the stretch to pull within 47-46 with 3:25 remaining but they were never able to get over the hump. Cincinnati shot at just a 37.5 percent clip in the loss. Leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick had 13 points but shot 5-of-14 overall and 1-of-8 from 3-point range.

The Bearcats will be right in their comfort zone against a defensive-minded team like Pittsburgh. Cincinnati is allowing just 58.6 points per game on 37.6 percent shooting this season which has it ranked among the top 30 teams in the country in both categories. Controlling the boards has been a major key to the Bearcats' success as they rank at the top of the Big East in rebounds (41.9 ppg). Offensively the Bearcats are a less efficient squad, shooting 42 percent from the field, while managing to net 71.3 points per game. Kilpatrick (18.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) has been the go-to option all season for Cincinnati, ranking third in the conference in scoring. Cashmere Wright (13.9 ppg, 3.4 apg) and JaQuon Parker (10.7 ppg) join him in the backcourt, while Cheikh Mbodj (5.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 bpg) is one of the conference's best shot blockers in the paint.