Junior guard Dion Dixon, head coach Mick Cronin
After a steady dose of eyelid-swelling uppercuts and jabs, including a career-high 23 points from Dion Dixon, the Cincinnati Bearcats pimp-strutted out of Millett Hall with a 64-48 victory over Miami (OH), the 11th of the season. UC is one of nine unbeatens left in college basketball.
The only issue? Cue Doug Gottlieb's broken record mantra: "Who have they beaten?"
As it stands today, Cincinnati's strength of schedule is ranked 334 out of 345 Division I teams. It's not all UC's fault, though. A Dec. 4 battle with No. 1 Duke in the Meadowlands was 86'ed after Lance Stephenson bolted early for the NBA.
Dayton, last year's NIT champion, has struggled big-time early. Oklahoma, two years removed from a Blake Griffin-led Elite 8 run, to be blunt, ain't got sh*t.
Only two nonconference games remain—Thursday against St. Francis (PA) and Jan.6 vs despised crosstown rival Xavier.
With virtually nothing proven (in the NCAA selection committee's eyes) in the non-conference, UC's chances to prove its worth will shrink. If you take a look at the Big East slate, it's only seven games in which Cashmere Wright's crew can pick up a "signature win." Combine those with the Xavier game, and you have eight big-time opportunities:
Xavier, @ Villanova, @ Syracuse, @ Notre Dame, @ Pitt, @ Georgetown, UConn, Georgetown.
You'd think UC would need to win at least three of those games, preferably a couple of road conquests included. Of course, this is assuming at least 10-8 or 11-7 in Big East play.
The question is, from what we've seen so far, can head coach Mick Cronin's troops persevere in the close games it squandered so often last season against those upper echelon teams?
That remains to be seen. But, while the 11-0 start hasn't come against the cream of the crop, Bearcat fans have got to be pleased with the fact that Darnell Wilks and the 'Cats:
1) Play smart, relentless full and halfcourt D for 40 min.
2) Share the ball (31st in the nation in assists per game).
3) Have clear, defined roles for each player (led by the seniors accepting theirs).
4) Are deep, experienced, long and athletic (wear teams down).
5) Have a giant monster, Yancy Gates, in the middle.
The one negative so far has been, of course, free throw shooting. But, when hasn't that been an issue for Cincinnati?
If you ask Mick Cronin, he'll tell you this is his best team since he took over at Cincinnati. Can he lead UC to the Promised Land in 2010-11? Bearcat fans sure #$%@in' hope so!