Cincinnati and SMU renew their postseason rivalry and look to continue their respective seasons on Friday when they square off in the quarterfinal round of the American Athletic Conference tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Bearcats and Mustangs have met in each of the past three AAC tournaments, with the victor going on the win the title. SMU topped Cincinnati in the championship game in 2017 before the Bearcats claimed a pair of quarterfinal wins over SMU in 2018 and in 2019.
Cincinnati has endured a campaign that's seen a lengthy pause because of COVID-19, seven postponed or canceled games and the absence of four players who opted out because of the coronavirus or other issues.
The Bearcats played their best basketball over the final month of the regular season, winning seven of their final 10 games to finish at 10-10. Their 8-6 league mark was good enough to earn them a bye in the first round of the AAC tournament.
"Really proud of the tenacity and toughness this team showed," Bearcats coach John Brannen said. "It shows we got some guys on this team who understand what it takes. More importantly, they've bought into each other, and they've bought into what they're doing."
Cincinnati heads to the postseason after an 82-69 road win at East Carolina on Sunday. Mason Madsen and Jeremiah Davenport poured in 19 points each in that victory, and Keith Williams hit for 16.
SMU (11-4) hasn't played since a 71-56 road win at East Carolina on Feb. 8 after its last eight games of the season were either postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 positives within the Mustangs' program or weather issues.
It's been 32 days since SMU, the fourth seed in this event, took the court, so conditioning is sure to be a factor on Friday.
The Mustangs, who are considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament entering the AAC tournament, have to be the event's biggest wild card.
"We're the biggest unknown in the tournament, in my opinion," said SMU coach Tim Jankovich, who hasn't been on the sidelines since Jan. 11 because of his own COVID-19 issues. "The range of what we could be either way, I mean, who knows? I don't know how you control that."
Kendric Davis led SMU in that seems-like-a-long-time-ago win over East Carolina with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting and added eight assists.
"Just grateful to be playing again," Davis said of Friday's game. "When you get something taken away from you, you realize how much you love it. We're just ready to play, man."
The winner Friday will face the winner of the quarterfinal between top-seeded Wichita State and either Temple or South Florida.
--Field Level Media