Cincinnati Bearcats 29-4, 16-2 in the American Athletic Conference

Head coach: Mick Cronin (11th season)

Players to watch: Jacob Evans (13.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG); Gary Clark (10.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG); Troy Caupain (10.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.6 APG)

Season recap: The No. 6 seed Bearcats own one of the nation’s best records thanks to a lockdown defense that allows just 60.5 points per game—the fifth-best total in the country—while holding opponents to just 38.1 percent shooting, though Cincinnati has played few opponents of serious merit this season. The Bearcats’ have faced just five ranked opponents in 31 games this season, resulting in a 2-3 ledger highlighted by wins against Iowa State and Xavier.

Offensively, Cincinnati features one of college basketball’s most efficient distributors in point guard Troy Caupain, whose 3.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio leads his conference and is fourth best in the nation. As the senior works the ball around, forward Gary Clark serves as an efficient scoring option by shooting 69.2 percent from the floor and also snatching 3.1 offensive rebounds per game. 

The big man from Clayton, N.C., has been playing the team’s best basketball as of late, averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game during the team’s final two regular-season matchups. The Bearcats also feature two long-range threats who can spread the floor in Jacob Evans and N.C. State transfer Kyle Washington, who both shoot better than 39 percent from long range. 

Cincinnati dropped nonconference games to Rhode Island and Butler before dominating in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats finished second in the standings with a 16-2 regular-season mark, only losing to regular-season champion Southern Methodist and Central Florida before falling to the Mustangs yet again in the conference tournament title game. 

How they make a run: Cincinnati has shown it can get in a rhythm and get hot, as the team went 64 days without a loss during one stretch. To find similar form, head coach Mick Cronin's team controls the pace of games against opponents with more offensive firepower and leans on its tenacious defense to make the second weekend. 

How they falter: The Bearcats’ weak strength of schedule comes back to haunt them as they are unable to keep up with more battle-tested opponents. If it faces another strong defensive team that can shut down Caupain, Cincinnati could be heading home early.