Alabama (6-0) at (17) Cincinnati (6-0)
Saturday December 1, 3 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fifth Third Arena (13,176) -- Cincinnati, Ohio. Television: ESPN 2. Home Record: Alabama 4-0, Cincinnati 4-0. Away Record: Alabama 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Neutral Record: Alabama 2-0, Cincinnati 2-0. Conference Record: Alabama 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Series Record: Series tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: A pair of undefeated teams will square off in this season's Big East/SEC Challenge, as the Alabama Crimson Tide roll into Fifth Third Arena to take on the 17th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide will find themselves in the top 25 sooner than later if they continue to thrive. Alabama improved to 6-0 for the second straight season with a rout of Lamar on Tuesday. The team's notable wins so far are South Dakota State, Oregon State, and Villanova. Grant's keen focus on defense has paid off, as his squad is limiting opponents to 54.3 ppg on just 38.4 percent shooting from the field. It has also forced its opposition into an average of 18.2 turnovers per game. The strong defensive effort has led to easy buckets on the other end, as Alabama has outscored its opponents 124-60 in points off of turnovers through six games. The Crimson Tide is producing 71 ppg with a 46.7 field goal percentage.
The Bearcats faced a pair of tough tests in the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas, but overcame both Iowa State and Oregon to win the event and improve to 6-0. Cincinnati did not have an accurate evening versus the Ducks, as it converted only 37.5 percent of its field goal attempts on its way to the 77-66 decision. However, three-point shooting played a big role as it knocked down 11-of-24 from three-point range to capture the crown. Coach Mick Cronin's team has been dominant this season, outscoring its opponents by an average margin of 26.1 ppg this season.
This is the only matchup between unbeaten teams in the Challenge. This series is tied 1-1. The Bearcats won the last meeting by three points in overtime in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic on Dec. 22, 2000. The Crimson Tide won the first meeting in the series 83-64 in Tuscaloosa in 1983. This is the first meeting in Cincinnati.
Alabama's stifling defense was on display its last time out. Lamar was able to score just 47 points and went 1-of-7 from three-point range in the contest. The Tide made only 5-of-20 from distance, but made 56.8 percent of their attempts from inside the arc. This was without the team's leading scorer Trevor Releford, who sat out due to illness. Andrew Steele did not play either because of a groin injury. Releford will bring his 18.6 ppg average with him as he returns to action on Saturday, but Steele (4.2 ppg) is day-to-day. The Tide have a pair of skilled sophomore guards in Rodney Cooper (15.8 ppg) and Trevor Lacy (13.5 ppg). Cooper is also the team's top rebounder with 4.8 boards per contest.
Cincy has arguably the best backcourt in the nation this season with Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick pushing the tempo. Wright knocked down five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 17 points and Global Sports Classic MVP award his last time out. Kilpatrick netted 32 points with the help of 16 makes at the free throw line the previous night to push the Bearcats past Iowa State. Both guards are complete players with the ability to drive and finish, find the open man, or drain shots from the perimeter. Kilpatrick is leading the team with 21 ppg, while Wright is generating 16.5 ppg. Both Wright (998) and Kilpatrick (993) are likely to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau for their careers on Saturday. JaQuon Parker is another talented guard Cronin uses often. Although he does not score as much as the guards on his team, junior forward Justin Jackson plays a vital role as a rebounder and shot blocker for the Bearcats.
This will be the toughest game of the season to this point for both sides. Alabama's ability to escape with a victory relies heavily on the status of Releford. Although he is going to play, he will not be able to survive against UC's tough backcourt unless he is 100 percent healthy. Kilpatrick and Wright will be challenged by the Tide's strong defensive rotation, but they will ultimately find a way to fend off Alabama.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 67, Alabama 60
12/01 10:49:16 ET