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Cincinnati at Louisville

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Editor's note: Brian's college hoops picks are absolutely on fire. He went 5-0 on Saturday and since Jan. 12, Brian owns a 37-19 record (66%) for 14.6 units of profit. Sign up for Thursday's picks or you can win from now through the conference tournaments with his season package.

Cincinnati will bring a 12-game winning streak into the Yum! Center tonight to face Louisville in a crucial AAC showdown. The Bearcats remain unbeaten in league play and with a victory, they could take a two-game lead over Louisville, which lost at home to Memphis for its only conference loss.

As of early this morning, most books had Louisville (17-3 straight up, 10-8 against the spread) installed as a 9.5-point home favorite. There was no overnight total.

The most important aspect of the handicapping equation for this game is the status of Cincy senior center Justin Jackson, who injured his ankle in the first half of Sunday's non-covering win at Temple. Jackson didn't return against the Owls but he is 'probable' for tonight's contest.

With that said, Jackson told Fox Sports Cincinnati after practice on Tuesday, "I'm playing. I'm a machine."

When Jackson is healthy, the 'under' is certainly a money-making machine in Cincy games. The 'under' was 13-1 for the Bearcats this year until Temple's Dalton Pepper erupted from 3-point land in the second half to get the Owls back into game they lost by an 80-76 count. The 156 combined points went 'over' the 133-point total.

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The 'under' had appeared in Cincy's seven previous games. That's because Jackson is a terrific rim protector who averages 3.3 blocks per game. He also leads Cincy in rebounding (7.0 RPG), steals (1.8 per game and field-goal percentage (54.8%), and Jackson is the team's second-leading scorer with a 11.1 points-per-game average.

With Jackson in the first half, Cincy-Temple was on pace for another 'under.' Without him, the Owls could attack the rim and Pepper caught fire from deep. Going back to last season, the 'under' had cashed in 25 of the Bearcats' 28 prior games before Sunday's 'over' emergence.

Mick Cronin's team has been an underdog three times this year, compiling a 2-1 record both SU and ATS. Cincy won 69-53 at Memphis and 44-43 over Pitt on a neutral court. The Bearcats lost as 'dogs at New Mexico on December 7.

Cincy's next game was a December 14 loss at Xavier, but it hasn't tasted defeat since then. Sean Kilpatrick is one of the main reasons why, averaging a team-high 19.1 PPG. Kilpatrick scored 29 points and pulled down eight rebounds at Temple.

Rick Pitino's team has won four in a row since losing to Memphis and it has taken the cash in its last three outings. U of L went down to Tampa this past Saturday and dealt out woodshed treatment in the form of an 86-47 clubbing. Wayne Blackshear led the way with a team-high 16 points.

Luke Hancock added 14 points as he knocked down four three-balls. Russ Smith finished with 12 points and six assists, while Montrezl Harrell produced 14 points and 10 boards.

Smith paces U of L in scoring (18.0 PPG) and assists (4.8 APG). The Cardinals have been without starting point guard Chris Jones for the last three weeks, but Pitino has declared him 100-percent healthy. Jones will return from an oblique injury tonight, but he will come from off of the bench.

Louisville has won 11 of its 12 home games while posting a 6-4 spread record. The 'over' is 9-7 overall for U of L, 4-4 in its home games.

The 'under' has cashed in six straight head-to-head meetings between these rivals and eight of the last nine. Since losing three in a row to Cincy, the Cardinals have won back-to-back games against the Bearcats both SU and ATS.

When they squared off in Louisville last season, Jackson was injured and couldn't play for Cincy. U of L took advantage and cruised to a 67-51 win as a 10.5-point home 'chalk.' Smith scored a game-high 18 points for the winners, while Kilpatrick had just 12 points and was an abysmal 3-of-15 from the field and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc.

ESPN will have the telecast at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.'s Bonus Nuggets**

-- The NCAA finally finally announced a decision Wednesday on the status of Florida freshman center Chris Walker. Walker has been cleared to play after serving the last two games of a 12-game suspension for accepting benefits from five people, including two agents, while playing AAU basketball during his high-school years. The Bonifay product, who led Holmes Co. to a state title last year with a win over West Gadsden in the finals, must sit out two more games before making his debut Tuesday in a home game vs. Missouri. Walker was a McDonald's All-American who is currently listed as the No. 22 pick in the upcoming draft by ESPN.com's Chad Ford in his latest mock. He was admitted into UF in early December and has been practicing with the team since then. Walker has added 10 pounds to get up to 215 on his 6-10 frame. Gamblers should expect him to have an immediate impact on the boards and as a shot-blocking presence, but he's raw offensively and has a long way to go before being considered an elite player in the SEC.

-- Arizona nearly fell from the ranks of the unbeaten last night at Stanford. But a key three from Nick Johnson off an offensive rebound and brilliant defense in the last seven minutes propelled the Wildcats to a 60-57 victory. The Cardinal took the cash as a six-point home underdog.

-- We saw upsets galore Tuesday night and the Big Ten provided a pair of stunners Wednesday night. Penn St. went into Columbus and beat Ohio St. 71-70 in overtime. The Nittany Lions won as 13-point underdogs and hooked up money-line supporters with a sweet +800 payout (paid $800 on $100 wagers). Also, Northwestern handed Wisconsin a 65-56 loss behind a strong performance from fifth-senior forward Drew Crawford. The Wildcats won as 17-point underdogs and closed at +1750 on the money line at 5Dimes. Since an incredible 16-0 start, the Badgers have lost four of their last five games.

-- Kevin Stallings is doing a helluva job this season. As we've noted quite a few times, Vandy lost three likely starters unexpectedly during the off-season. One transferred, another got suspended for a year and the other turned pro in Europe. Then in early January, the Commodores lost their starting point guard and leading scorer. Nevertheless, Stallings has kept his team competitive and after winning by double digits Saturday at Texas A&M, Vandy went into Athens last night and won outright as a six-point underdog. The 'Dores did this despite dealing with chafe travel issues Tuesday night.

-- Tennessee responded nicely from a blowout loss at Florida to smash Ole Miss 86-70 last night as an eight-point home favorite. Conrad McRae endured an atrocious shooting performance in the loss to the Gators, as he was 1-of-15 from the field. But McRae was the catalyst against the Rebels, scoring 26 points on 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point land.

  
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