The first AAC regular season title could be decided this Saturday when no. 13 Louisville travels to no. 10 Cincinnati. The Bearcats could lock up the conference with a win. A win would give Cincinnati a two-game lead in the standings with four games to play, and would give them the tiebreaker over the Cardinals. A Cardinals win would put them in a tie with the Bearcats, making for a wild last few weeks of the regular season.
The game will feature two of the Naismith Midseason Top 30 Finalists for Player of the Year in Russ Smith from Louisville and Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati. Kilpatrick has to be the odds-on favorite to win Player of the Year this season in the AAC. He has taken the Bearcats to unexpected success this season while averaging 20.1 PPG and 4.5 RPG.
Smith, meanwhile, has his Cardinals team on their annual February climb, averaging 17.7 PPG and 4.7 APG. Kilpatrick was clearly the winner in the first game, scoring 28 points in leading the Bearcats to a 3-point win on the road at Louisville. However, the Cardinals have done some growing since that loss — literally.
The Cardinals and coach Rick Pitino have decided to go all “James Harden” to continue their winning streak, vowing to grow beards until they lose. I want to remain neutral, but who doesn’t want to see Pitino with a Harden beard to match his tattoo from last year’s title team?. Mick Cronin may want to break out the Norelco’s as motivation.
Its everything AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco could have hoped for when the conference was formed a few months ago: two highly-ranked teams and two bona fide stars meeting in a late-season battle that could decide the fate of the AAC regular season championship.
Both teams will have to clear hurdles early in the week in Florida to set up the game, as the Cardinals travel to Tampa to face South Florida Tuesday while the Bearcats travel to Orlando to face Central Florida on Wednesday. The showdown between the Cardinals and the Bearcats will be at noon EST on Saturday in Cincinnati.