The No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats saw their 15-game winning streak snapped on Saturday night following a resounding 76-55 defeat at the hands of the SMU Mustangs in Dallas.
It's SMU's third win at home against a ranked opponent this season. The Mustangs beat then-No. 17 Connecticut on Jan. 4 and then-No. 22 Memphis on Feb. 1.
ESPN's Andy Katz made the comparison to the 2011-12 Colorado State Rams, as the Rams picked up home wins against No. 13 San Diego State, No. 18 New Mexico and No. 17 UNLV en route to making the NCAA Tournament:
SMU looking like CSU from 2012. Beat the best teams in the MWC at home but not on road, earn a bid. SMU doing that in AAC so far.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) February 9, 2014
USA Today's Eric Prisbell thinks that this victory could vault SMU into the Top 25, which would be the first time in nearly 30 years for the school. Head coach Larry Brown has earned a lot of frequent flyer miles during that span:
With a win, #SMU could make the Top 25 for first time since the 1984-85 season. That's eight jobs ago for Larry Brown, who has thrived here.— Eric Prisbell (@EricPrisbell) February 9, 2014
Jon Rothstein of the CBS Sports Network is already looking ahead to what the team could possibly do next season:
Just think --- a year from now SMU will return the majority of this team and add Emmanuel Mudiay. Moody magic? This is only the beginning.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 9, 2014
After the game, Brown praised his team, saying that the school is much further along in its development than he thought it would be at this point. However, he added that beating teams like the Bearcats, Huskies and Tigers helps to build a winning culture, per Roger Kuznia of Sporting News:
When I came here, I was hopeful we could be special right away. It’s changed quicker than I guess we thought, but you still want more. You want your kids still to get better. The opportunity to play Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis, Louisville—that makes you have to be better. I think we’re all excited, but you want more.
Perhaps more surprising than the upset itself was the way in which SMU took control of the game early and never let up. The Mustangs jumped out to a 22-12 lead with 6:15 to go in the first half and didn't look back. They had a 38-24 lead at halftime.
After SMU's lead grew to as much as 18 points early in the second half, Cincinnati began clawing its way back, getting to within seven points, 48-41, with 10:07 to go in the game.
The Mustangs followed with a 13-2 run over the next three minutes to get the lead back to 18 points, and from there, it was no contest. The exclamation point was a thunderous dunk by senior guard Nick Russell:
Breakaway dunk and SMU's lead balloons to 18 points. My seat is shaking. Crowd is ear-splitting. Feels like I'm at Cameron Indoor a bit.— Eric Prisbell (@EricPrisbell) February 9, 2014
Offense hasn't been the calling card for Cincinnati this season, as it averaged just 69.9 points a game coming in. Ultimately, that pedestrian output was the Bearcats' undoing. They shot 35.4 percent from the field, including 16.7 percent from three-point range.
Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick was Cincy's leading scorer coming into the game, at 19.7 points per game. Although he finished with 22 points, it came on 5-of-18 shooting from the floor and 3-of-12 from behind the arc. Kilpatrick was off-kilter all game, with the SMU defense doing a great job of locking him down.
When your star player struggles, you need the supporting cast to step up. Unfortunately for coach Mick Cronin, that didn't happen.
Senior forward Justin Jackson was the only other Bearcats player in double figures, with 10 points.
As ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf noted, the Mustangs have made a massive defensive improvement over the past year, jumping way up in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rating:
@kenpomeroy SMU was 151st in your Adj. DE ratings last season; 17th this season. Has any team ever made that jump?— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 9, 2014
What Cincinnati has been able to count on all season is their play on the defensive side of the ball. Coming into Saturday night, the Bearcats ranked fourth in scoring defense (56.8 points per game), while allowing opponents to shoot just 38.6 percent from the field.
That strong defense was nowhere to be found in Dallas.
The Mustangs shot the lights out in Moody Coliseum. They finished over 50 percent from the floor, making 25 of their 46 shots, even though they sunk only 4-of-14 from three-point range.
Russell and sophomore guard Nic Moore were the standout performers, as they combined for 29 points.
However, it was arguably SMU's bench that made the difference. The Mustangs outscored the Bearcats 35-8 in that category. Freshman forward Ben Moore scored 15 off the bench, while junior center Cannen Cunningham added 11 of his own.
This is undoubtedly SMU's biggest win of the season. By the time March rolls around, this victory will look good in the eyes of the selection committee should the Mustangs need an at-large bid to get into the Big Dance. Should they play like this the rest of the year, though, they're a lock to get in.
Cincinnati will have to recover and pick up the pieces quickly. A few weeks from now, the Bearcats have a brutal three-game stretch in which they play No. 14 Louisville, No. 22 Connecticut and No. 24 Memphis.