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Cincy already playing the respect card

1/6/2011

In case you missed it, the Cincinnati Bearcats are 14-0. This is, in and of itself, a very impressive record. College basketball, for all its built-in inequality, is a topsy-turvy game. So no matter who the opponent, it's hard to win 14 games in a row, let alone the first 14 of your season. Cincinnati made its first appearance in both the AP poll (No. 24), the coaches' poll (No. 25) and our ESPN.com Power Rankings this week, and all the inclusions are justified.

That said ... Cincinnati hasn't beaten anyone. The Bearcats played one of the worst nonconference schedules in the country, a slate that ranks No. 341, fifth-worst among all Division I teams, according to Pomeroy. Cincinnati's first two Big East wins came versus DePaul and Seton Hall, two of the Big East's lesser lights, at home.

All told, Cincinnati has left the state of Ohio exactly once -- once! -- this season, and that game was a win over the talent-bereft Oklahoma Sooners in Oklahoma City. Not only have the Bearcats not beaten anyone, they haven't exactly been road warriors, either.

Which is fine. I'm not criticizing. If you want to schedule home cupcakes and true road games at Miami (Ohio) and Toledo, that's just, like, your journey, man. Just don't start playing the "nobody respects us!" card, coach Mick Cronin. Not this early. Because this is a little bit silly:

"To be 25th behind teams with three losses? We still get no respect. Our guys are pretty well aware of that," said Cronin. "We're not going to get any until we prove certain things to certain people. That's the hand that we are dealt so we will just continue to play it. We will see how good we are." [...]

"I'm going to use that lack of respect even though we are ranked," says Cronin. "We are still not ranked where we probably deserve to be ranked considering the losses of some of the other people have had ahead of us. So I will keep playing that card as long as I can with the team."

Here's the thing: Yes, there are teams with three losses ranked above the Bearcats. But the Bearcats are ranked the way they are because most voters aren't sure UC would have won those games. In fact, there's no real way to be sure.

I've been impressed by Cincinnati's per-possession performance in its games to date, and Cronin's team hasn't merely been squeaking by its inferior foes. (And, yes, Cronin's comments are as much about motivating his players as about the polls themselves.) But until the Bearcats beat someone with at least a marginal chance to make the NCAA tournament, we don't really know how good they are. It's just that simple.

Fortunately, we won't have to wait much longer. Cincinnati will play crosstown foe Xavier tonight, and that game is always a heated rivalry no matter the skill level. After that, the real tests -- starting with a game at No. 7 Villanova on Sunday -- begin. Then we'll find out how much respect (and it could be a lot!) this Cincinnati team really deserves.