Bearcats Grab Road Win; Jux Discovers Taste Heaven on UCF Campus

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain

Central Florida’s campus is the home to a bar and grill called Burger U, and Burger U offers a side item that I had never heard of before. Well, actually, the side item is common, but the dipping sauce accompanying it was truly unique.

We’ll come back to that.

There was a basketball game played between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the UCF Knights in the arena just across the street from the heavenly side item that you’ll learn about shortly. The Bearcats (14-5, 5-2) traveled to Orlando without a conference road win to their credit. And although UCF (9-10, 2-6) is no stalwart, the Knights are no slouch, especially at home. Back on New Year’s Eve, UCF battled conference leader Tulsa for 40 minutes, only to lose by a single bucket. The Knights also played Top 20 RPI SMU tough, eventually losing by nine.

Cincinnati had played two road games in conference play and lost both—-to UConn and Memphis. The Bearcats turned the ball over 37 times combined in those two L’s, so the coaching staff no doubt preached valuing the basketball coming into the game at CFE Arena on Sunday.

UCF wasn’t scared. After a Daiquan Walker trey just after the 10:00 mark, the Knights took an 18-12 lead. But the Bearcats, as is customary, would clamp down, allowing just one more made field goal the rest of the first half, taking a 29-24 lead into the locker room.

The Bearcats came out with good energy in the 2nd half, and after a Farad “Salad” Cobb (more on that nickname later) steal and conversion with 12:35 to go, UC stretched its lead out to nine. But UCF answered with a thunderous right-handed slam by Kasey Wilson, a three-ball by Adonys Henriquez and a lay-up by Brandon Goodwin, while UC managed a single free throw by Shaq “Captain 1-For-2″ Thomas.

We’ve got a ballgame. UC 42, UCF 39.

But then Troy “Clyde” Caupain took over, scoring the next five for UC while Goodwin notched a bucket in between, and then a three by Kevin Johnson stretched UC’s lead out to nine again. From there, the Bearcats played exceptional defense and made their free throws down the stretch, eventually leaving the building with a 56-46 victory.

Not to be lost in the shuffle was the defensive gem right before Johnson’s triple. Kasey Wilson drove the lane hard, went up for the shot……and was REJECTED by Jermaine “Far Rockaway Style” Sanders with the right hand. That five-point swing likely sealed the win for Larry Davis and the ‘Cats.

UC now sits at #28 in the RPI ( and third place in the American Conference. A home game against UConn looms this coming Thursday.

Now, back to Burger U on UCF’s campus. The taste-bud-tantalizing side dish was an order of waffle sweet potato fries with marshmallow dipping sauce. Oh baby. Oh baby. I’m telling you. If UC plays in Orlando next season, you better get your behind down there and get yourself some-a that. You’ll thank me repeatedly for the rest of your natural life.

(P.S. As for “Farad Salad” —- I was out with friends down here in Tampa and Cobb salad was on the menu, so I asked, “Do you think when it’s all said and done, it’ll be called a Farad salad?” After taking a few seconds to realize what I meant, laughter followed by a token “You’re out of your mind, Jux” declaration ensued. So if you see or hear me refer to Farad Cobb as “Salad,” now you know why.)

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Bearcats Senior Jermaine Sanders Far Rockaways Temple To Sleep

jermaine sanders cincinnatiIf I told you that the 202nd-ranked offensive team in the nation made 20 shots and missed just six in the second half of a game, would you believe me?

I wouldn’t believe me. But I witnessed it. The Cincinnati Bearcats (12-5, 3-2) held a one-point lead at halftime over the Temple Owls, who were without senior starting point guard Will Cummings. It appeared as if I’d have to worry and yell on every possession and sweat out the rest of the game–a game UC could not afford to lose, because it would extend its losing streak to three in a row.

Then the second half started. And after a few short minutes, the game was virtually over. The Bearcats put a 21-6 run together after the break to pull away.

If you’re a long time Bearcat fan, you know this is the part where they take the foot off the gas and let the opponent back in the game. But Jermaine Sanders, the lone senior in the rotation, would have none of that. Sanders made a beautiful cut to the rim for an easy bucket off of a sweet dish from Octavius “Oc” Ellis. Two and a half minutes later, Sanders, the Far Rockaway, New York native, drained a three-pointer. One minute later, another smart cut to the basket by ‘Maine, another easy finish, this time on a dime by Farad “Fa-rield Williams” Cobb. Less than a minute later, Jermaine popped in another trey, again assisted by Cobb. The next time down the floor, Sanders crashed the offensive glass and tipped the ball into the basket, giving him a career-high 16 points to go along with six boards.

You’ve got to feel good for Jermaine. He’s the only healthy senior on this team, and he usually is not in the starting lineup. Since scoring 10 points against Middle Tennessee way back on November 28th, he hasn’t been close to double figures (his best output was 7 vs. VCU). But Jermaine has continued to play a solid, fundamental floor game on both ends every time he steps on the court. Coming into the Temple game Saturday night, ‘Maine had gone five straight games without a turnover. He did commit one against Temple, but for the season, he’s only had one game with more than one turnover (he had two against VCU).

So in 17 games, Jermaine Sanders has committed just nine turnovers. In addition to protecting the ball, ‘Maine always plays sound, scouting report defense, he always boxes out, and as he showed against Temple, he knows when to cut to the basket.

Throughout this season–his final as a Bearcat–Sanders has been steady and smart. He hasn’t forced many shots, he hasn’t hung his head and as far as I know, he has fully accepted his role on this team. And for those reasons, in addition to shooting the ball well enough over his career to help spread the floor on offense, Jermaine is an underappreciated-but-vital piece to the puzzle this season, a season in which fans, players and coaches hope includes UC’s fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

UC ended up throttling Temple, 84-53, Saturday night in front of over 12,000 fans. Next up will be a Wednesday home game vs. Houston (7-10, 0-6) and then next Sunday on the road in Orlando against Central Florida (9-8, 2-4). (I’ll be at the UCF game.)

Thanks for reading.

(Shout out to Janis Eppensteiner. Go ‘Cats!)

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It’s Time for Cincinnati Bearcats Point Guard Troy Caupain To Get Selfish

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain

We’ve heard ESPN analyst Len Elmore say it over and over again during the past two games: “Troy Caupain has got to go get the ball and make a play.”

Elmore, who famously commentated on the UC 77-Duke 75 game back in 1998, has been calling for Caupain to take charge and do what point guards are supposed to do.

With Cincinnati’s offense especially stagnant over the course of the past three halves of basketball, we’ve seen numerous (a.k.a. way too many) forced shots and shot clock violations. And in nearly every case, Caupain, the 19-year-old sophomore, did not have the rock in his hands as time was ticking down on the possession. Elmore has repeatedly implored Caupain to take matters into his own hands because “he can make plays.”

Elmore’s job description for a point guard is simple: Push the ball up the floor, explore the defense. If there’s no advantage, call a play. If the play doesn’t work, go get the ball with 10 on the shot clock and make a play.

Troy’s the youngest player on the team, and he’s halfway through his first year as the starting point guard. At times, he’s run the show effectively. Also at times, however, Number 10 has been passive, oftentimes deferring to his teammates.

Passive ain’t gonna work.

Consider these statistics: Troy plays just over 30 minutes per game. The kid from Midlothian, VA is averaging only seven shot attempts per game while dishing out just 3.5 assists.

Not enough. It’s not enough. Troy is an 86-percent free throw shooter and he hits 36% from downtown (47% in his last five games). He can knock down mid-range jumpers. And, although Troy’s an inconsistent finisher in the paint, he does finish some of the time, he draws fouls some of the time, and when he attacks, it opens up offensive rebounding opportunities or he can kick the ball out to an open shooter.

Bottom line: Troy Caupain has to become more selfish. That word is normally a negative term, but in this case, it’s what his team needs. I’m not calling for Troy to take 25 shots a game. Not that kind of selfish. I’m saying that he needs to be the guy making the plays, making the decisions and taking control when things break down. The other guards simply are not at Troy’s level in terms of playmaking.

The only way UC’s offensive efficiency is going to improve (it’s f%$#ing 202nd in the country right now) is if the right guys are the ones making the decisions and the plays. We can’t have big guys with the ball on the perimeter, with nobody coming to get the ball. We can’t have bad ball-handlers putting their head down and driving into traffic. And we’ve got to have Troy and back-up point guard Farad Cobb looking to push and exploit the defense every time UC gets possession of the basketball.

20 turnovers in a game (Thursday night’s total at Memphis) at this point in the season is beyond unacceptable. But it all comes back to the point guard. Caupain’s got to be the guy. I know he’s young, but there’s nobody else. He has to constantly be aggressive and assertive. Attack, attack, and attack some more. We need 12-15 shot attempts, 5-10 free throw attempts and 5+ assists from Troy on a nightly basis. I know the coaching staff likes to run an equal opportunity system, and that’s fine in terms of shot attempts. But as far as the guys making decisions and making the plays: Roles must be clearly defined and everybody must buy in for the offense to get better.

Big picture: Tough-to-swallow empty road trip for the Bearcats, who now sit at 11-5, 2-2 in the American Conference. It’s adjustment time and it’s bounce back time. There’s still plenty of time to right the ship and get hot down the stretch. The turnaround can begin Saturday night at 7:30 EST at home against the Temple Owls (12-6, 3-2, Top 50 RPI).

Thanks for reading.

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4-Minute Preview Podcast: Cincinnati (11-4) At Memphis (9-6)

The Bearcats will try to salvage a split on this road trip Thursday night, 7 EST, ESPN, down in Memphis against Josh Pastner’s extremely young Tigers.

Memphis is strong in the post with Austin Nichols (3.5 blks/gm) and Shaq Goodwin. The rest of the team is a complete mystery, because Pastner has NINE new players, including a fella named Pookie Powell.

UC is a one-point favorite in this game. I’ll tell you what to look for…

4-Minute Preview Podcast: UC at Memphis (4:16)

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Ohio State Football: “You Haven’t Really Even Seen Anything Yet.”

Playoff Championship Ohio St Oregon Football“Frightening” was the word used by Ohio State senior WR Evan Spencer when asked about the talent level in Columbus moving forward.

The Buckeyes completed a three-game plow job to the national title on Monday night. Smashing #13 Wisconsin, #1 Alabama and finally #2 Oregon in a five week span was a triumphant announcement to the college football world that Ohio State football is back on top of the mountain.

As impressive as the 2014-15 season was for the Buckeyes, with the well-documented loss of two Heisman candidate QBs and relentless adversity in Big 10 play answered, the best may be yet to come.

In an article last week, redshirt freshman Darron Lee was asked about the future. Lee’s response:

“I can sit here and tell you that there’s other guys you haven’t even seen yet that are going to be really, really good football players. Guys from the ’14 [recruiting class] especially. You haven’t really even seen anything yet.”

I’ve thought about that quote a lot this past week, mainly because the list of underclassmen with “high NFL draft pick” written all over them was pretty daggum long on this year’s team. The question I’ve been asking myself: “Who was Darron Lee talking about?”

We were introduced to two future killers in the title game Monday night:

Tyquan Lewis #59 – 6’3″ 260 – RS Freshman DE – Tarboro, NC

tyquanUrban Meyer rotated more bodies than usual on the defensive line to try to keep his main guys fresh against Oregon’s quick-paced offense. Throughout the game, I continued to see “Number Fifty-Nine” making life miserable for Oregon’s left tackle. I kept wondering aloud: “Who is this 59? He’s murdering this left tackle…Jeez! 59 again!…”

Well, #59 is Tyquan Lewis. Lewis was a 4-star recruit, ranking as the 11th best weak side defensive end in his class.

Jalyn Holmes #10 – 6’4″ 262 – Freshman DE – Norfolk, VA

In addition to “Number Fifty-Nine,” we also saw “Number Ten” in there putting pressure on the Heisman trophy winner. Holmes is another 4-star recruit, ranking as the 4th best weak side DE in the 2014 class.

These two dudes: Yikes. OSU loses starting DE Steve Miller to graduation. Both of these animals will be battling for that vacated spot next fall.

If you watched the always-well-attended Spring Game last year, you may have noticed a lightning quick WR wearing the #1 jersey…

Johnnie Dixon #1 – 5’11” 198 – Freshman WR – Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Dixon looked like he’d be in the WR rotation from the get-go as a true freshman but tendinitis in both knees required surgery and the kid ended up with a medical redshirt. He’s yet another 4-star recruit from the south. Dixon should factor into the equation for replacing departed senior Devin Smith (the best wide-out in Buckeye history, according to some.)

So these are the three “you haven’t seen anything yet” players I know about. I just finished scouring OSU’s roster to see who else Lee may have been referring to…

Gareon Conley #19 –  6’0″ 190 – RS Freshman CB – Massilon, OH

Conley was the #1 rated player in Ohio his senior season, a consensus 4-star recruit and the #43 overall player in his class nationally.

Noah Brown #80 – 6’1″ 240 – Freshman WR – Flanders, NJ

This dude is 240 pounds and was considered the 9th best “athlete” in the 2014 class by Rivals. A consensus 4-star recruit, we saw a little bit of Brown toward the end of this season. Again, 240 pounds for an athletic wide receiver…and again: Yikes.

Sam Hubbard #49 – 6’5″ 244 – RS Freshman TE/LB – Cincinnati, OH (Moeller)

Sam Hubbard

Sam Hubbard

This guy was a FIVE-star recruit. Listed as a DE on Ohio State’s website, he played safety and linebacker in high school as well as tight end. Scout had Hubbard as the #2 OLB prospect in the nation. He may end up playing tight end at OSU, which would help with the departure of beloved Jeff Heuerman.

How about some offensive lineman?

Jamarco Jones #74 – 6’4″ 306 – Freshman OL – Chicago: 6th ranked tackle in America by Rivals (4-star)

Marcelys Jones #64 – 6’4″ 325 – Freshman OL – Cleveland-Glenville = Enough said

Demetrius Knox #78 – 6’3″ 308 – Freshman OL – Ft. Worth, TX – 2nd-best guard in America says Rivals

Evan Lisle #75 – 6’6″ 300 – RS Freshman OL – Centerville, OH – 4-star, Top 10, etc etc

Wait, there’s more?

Marshon Lattimore #2 – 6’0″ 195 – Freshman CB – From? Cleveland-Glenville. Top 10 CB in America per all sites.

Terry McLaurin #83 – 6’0″ 195 – RS Freshman WR – Indianapolis, IN – 2013 Indiana Mr. Football

Donovan Munger #52 – 6’4″ 300 – RS Freshman DT – Shaker Heights, OH – High school coach described Munger as “quick, fast, strong, and a mammoth of a man.”

Darius Slade #42 – 6’4″ 245 – Freshman DE – Montclair, NJ – 23.5 sacks his senior season in high school

Erick Smith #1 – 6’1″ 198 – Freshman DB – Cleveland Glenville style – 247sports ranked E as the No. 2 CB in his class

Damon Webb #7 – 5’10” 190 – Freshman CB – Detroit, MI – No. 5 CB prospect in nation (Rivals, 247sports)

Chris Worley #35 – 6’2″ 222 – RS Freshman LB/Safety – Glenville, son – I loved this kid in the Spring Game. As a senior at Glenville, C-Dub had five forced fumbles and five pick-6’s.

So there’s a nice stack of talent to look forward to in 2015 and beyond, in addition to the young fellas we saw this season (Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Samuel, Lee, Eli Apple, Jalin Marshall and VONN BELL).

Oh, I almost forgot. THIS GUY committed to OSU at halftime of the championship game: No. 1 RB in the nation Class of ’16, Kareem Walker.

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Next Day Reaction: Bearcats Battle, Not Quite Ready to Win At UConn

Sophomore Troy Caupain

Sophomore Troy Caupain

Though nobody in the Cincinnati program will admit it, winning a game in Hartford against a desperate UConn team was probably a little too much to ask at this stage in the game for an inexperienced Bearcat team. That may sound like an excuse, but it is not intended to be. It’s simply an attempt to point out just how tough it is to beat UConn on the road, regardless of the Huskies’ overall record, computer ranking or the fact that Kevin Ollie lost three starters off of last year’s national championship team.

UC battled and showed a lot of toughness on Saturday, just as this team has been doing since head coach Mick Cronin was lost for the year (arterial dissection) and associate head coach Larry Davis was thrown into the fire. But UConn still has Ryan Boatright, and, just like Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier before him, this cat simply wills his team to victory when necessary. The Huskies had already lost a home conference game (to Temple in overtime, Boatright missed the 2nd half and OT with a thigh injury), so Larry Davis knew they’d bring it.

And UConn did bring it. But the Bearcats hung in the game early, led by the outside shooting of sophomore Troy Caupain (14 points, 0 turnovers) and the shotblocking of Octavius “Oc” Ellis (six blocks). It was a physical, aggressive first half put forth by UConn, but UC matched that energy and built a 34-28 lead with under a minute to play before the break.

“Whoa,” I started to think, “UC can play with this team in this environment. If they win this game, they might be knocking on the door of the Top 25 next–”

But then Farad Cobb tried to throw a bounce pass to Coreontae DeBerry 35 feet from the basket with under ten seconds to play, and, who else?, Ryan Boatright (18 points, 8 assists in the game) scooped it up and raced down for an uncontested lay-up, cutting UC’s lead to four and taking a little wind out of the team’s sails heading into the locker room. UConn had possession to begin the second half and sophomore Rodney Purvis promptly drained a three-pointer. (F-bombs and couch-slaps ‘o’ plenty for Bearcat fans when that shot went down.)

And now, after all that effort to build that six-point lead, it’s back to a one-point game and here we go, the fight is on.

From there, UConn shut the Bearcats down, as Cincinnati managed just four points in an eight minute span. Can’t have that. Especially on the road.

Defense and shotblocking kept UC in the game in the second half, but a sputtering offense held the ‘Cats back. Eventually, UConn pulled away on a kick-in-the-balls six-point swing in which UC freshman Quadri Moore rimmed out a wide open three, and then Omar #@$%ing Calhoun buried a three for UConn. (I told you about Calhoun in my preview podcast. Still shaking my head.)

The Bearcats showed good toughness in this game, but the inability to put points on the board in the second half coupled with the laundry list of easy buckets UConn was able to convert did UC in.

The Big Picture

This was not a “bad loss” by any measurement. A conference road loss against a top-tier team won’t really hurt you, in terms of your NCAA Tournament resume. UC’s RPI is still in the 30’s (39 right now) and its BPI (ESPN’s Basketball Power Index) is actually 38 at the moment.

This game, although tough to swallow, will serve as a great learning experience for the kids. They’ve now seen how a national title caliber program plays the game. The coaching staff will break down the film, the players will see what they did wrong but more importantly what they did right, they’ll get back to work and begin prepping for the second half of this road trip (Thursday night, at Memphis) and stay focused and positive.

UC will have a chance for revenge Thursday, Jan. 29, when the Huskies travel to Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats knocked UConn off in that building last year.

Thanks for reading.

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Game Preview Podcast: Cincinnati Bearcats at UConn Huskies (8:15)

The Bearcats will try to win their 4th game in a row by knocking off defending national champ UConn, Saturday, Jan 10 at 11 AM EST on ESPN2 (Mike Patrick & Len Elmore).

It’s been a rocky start to the season for the Huskies (8-5) but Kevin Ollie’s squad presents a number of problems for Larry Davis’ kids, namely Ryan &$#@ing Boatright.

I’ll tell you what you need to know about UConn…

UC at UConn Game Preview (8:15)

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What Cincinnati Must Do (And Avoid) To Make Its 5th Straight NCAA Tournament

Coreontae DeBerry (#22) and Octavious Ellis (#2)

Coreontae DeBerry and “Oc” Ellis

After suffering its second blowout of the season on Dec. 20, this time to VCU, Cincinnati sat at 7-3 with a head coach out of commission. At that point, hearing “the Cincinnati Bearcats” called on Selection Sunday for the fifth straight season seemed unlikely.

But the Bearcats did have the home victory over #18 San Diego State in the “quality win” category. And as head coach Mick Cronin’s situation settled and associate head coach Larry Davis assumed the leadership role, UC beat the tar out of NC State in Raleigh and followed that up with a Farad-Cobb-sparked 56-50 muscle flex against arguably the best team in the American Conference, hall of famer Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs.

Now, Cincinnati sits in the mid-30’s in the RPI. For those of you not familiar, the RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index. It’s a computer ranking system that takes into account your winning percentage, your opponents’ winning percentage and your opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage, as well as a few other factors. The NCAA Tournament selection committee looks to RPI when deciding whether or not to invite a fringe team to the Dance. If your RPI ranking is 40 or below, you’re almost a shoe-in.

So here’s the issue for the now-Larry-Davis-led Bearcats: The American Conference is, all things considered, a pile of garbage. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. Let’s just say that UC will have a hard time boosting its RPI ranking the rest of the way, and it will desperately need to guard against that ranking dropping like a sack of potatoes.

Tonight’s game (Tuesday, 7:00, ESPNU: Mike Couzens [who??] and Brooke Weisbrod on the call) will without a doubt hurt UC’s RPI ranking, win or lose. East Carolina comes to Fifth Third Arena sitting at #283. Cincinnati simply cannot lose this game. It’s out of the question. And so we’ll be watching on pins and needles, shoulders tense and fists clenched, sphincters coiled, until, hopefully, the game ends with more points on UC’s side of the scoreboard. And that will be the case in nearly every game the rest of the regular season.

Take a look at the RPI for each team in the American Conference:

Team RPI
Temple 33 Won at UConn
Cincinnati 34 They have Farad Cobb
SMU 39 My pick to win league
Tulsa 40 (I don’t know how)
Xavier 49 UC’s final non-conference game
UConn 84 Huskies usually wayyyy higher
Tulane 103 Sleeper team
Memphis 105 9 new players
South Florida 199 Get them away from us already
Houston 228 New coach is Kelvin Sampson
Central Fla 238 Pesky but not very good
East Carolina 283 RPI-killer

After battling Jeff Lebo’s East Carolina Pirates, the Bearcats then go to UConn (#84) and Memphis (#105). It’s tough to ask an inexperienced team to grab a sweep on the road, especially against UConn and Memphis, regardless of what kind of seasons the Huskies and Tigers are having to this point. But sh*t, man, you can’t afford to lose to teams near the bottom or outside of the Top 100.

The good news is that the Temple Owls surprised everybody by waxing Kansas by 25 a week and a half ago, so their RPI should hover in the 30’s as long as Fran Dunphy’s boys don’t lose to somebody from the bottom of the standings either.

In my estimation, here’s what has to happen for the Bearcats to make it to the NCAA Tournament (if Oc Ellis and the crew do not win the conference tournament):

1) Undefeated at home
2) Beat Xavier
3) 3 or 4 losses at the most (2 loss max to UConn/Tulane/Memphis)
4) 0 losses to USF, HOU, UCF, ECU

Gonna be a lot of “sweatin’ ‘em out,” huh?

We continue the journey tonight, at home, against East Carolina. A loss is out of the question. And that will be the theme for nearly every game the rest of the way. But that can be a good thing, because if you’re playing for your life for two months, and you do sneak into the brackets, you’re tested and you’ve built enough toughness to win some more games.

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Postgame Podcast: Cincinnati 56, SMU 50 (8:18)

Defense + toughness + Farad Cobb = a quality home win against arguably the best team in the American Conference.

I’ll tell you all about it…

Postgame Podcast: UC 56, SMU 50 (8:18)

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Game Preview Podcast: Cincinnati (9-3) vs SMU (10-3)

After a relatively stress-free road win against NC State on Tuesday, a challenging American Conference opener is on the slate for the Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday morning (11:00 AM EST, ESPN2) against Hall of Famer Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs.

This team has 6 or 7 weapons that will present problems for the Bearcat defense. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about SMU:

UC vs SMU Preview Podcast (7:11)

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