Conference USA Notebook
The Men In Black are back. No, not Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Well, actually they never left, but judging by the preseason media coverage by some organizations (not Hoopville, of course), you’d have thought the Bearcats wouldn’t even be a factor in the Conference USA race, despite the fact that Cincinnati has won or shared the C-USA regular season championship all six years the conference has existed.
So here they are with a 13-1 mark heading into conference play and dominating their opponents (the lone loss came in the season opener to No. 6 Oklahoma State). Dominating might even be putting it a little lightly with Cincinnati’s average margin of victory at 23.7 per game.
The Bearcats have jumped from being unranked to start the season to 13th in the latest Associated Press poll. The computer polls like them even more. The Sagarin rankings have them second behind Duke and sixth in the RPI rankings.
The name of the game is defense in Cincinnati as always. Coach Bob Huggins preaches controlled aggression on the defensive end and it’s working thus far to the tune of only 55.1 points per game and 36.3 percent from the field for Bearcat opponents.
On the offensive side of the court, guard Steve Logan has more or less locked up Player of the Year honors in C-USA and is making a strong case for All-American honors.
He’s scoring 22.5 points per game and was named conference player of the week in consecutive weeks at the end of the December. The last guy to do that? Kenyon Martin in the 1999-2000 season. He’s also shooting 44.4 percent from the three-point line.
Count Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury among the converted after Logan bombed the previously undefeated Bulldogs for a career-high 40 points.
“We had no answers. We had our best defender on him and he was able to break him down,” he told ESPN.
A relatively easy early-season schedule means the Bearcats might be able to run away and hide from the rest of the conference.
Cincinnati faces C-USA doormat East Carolina twice in January and only a home contest against Louisville and a road game against South Florida should pose a challenge until a key Groundhog Day contest at Marquette.
Altron Jackson is on a roll of late, including a C-USA single-game record of 10 steals against Florida State. But his South Florida teammates are going to need to pitch in to keep the Bulls (10-3 overall, 1-0 conference) in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The loss to the Seminoles, barely as talented as a good mid-major team, is going to hurt their case. They’re 35th in the RPI rankings as of Jan. 4, but will need to hang around there to get serious consideration.
Questions, Not Answers
Louisville’s nationally televised pasting by Kentucky didn’t do much to make the Cardinals’ case that they should be reckoned with nationally. Louisville (10-2, 1-0) has gone on the road twice and been pounded twice, also by Oregon earlier in the season.
Now, Coach Rick Pitino has suspended freshman Brandon Bender for a second time this season for an unspecified violation of team rules, which will further hurt the Cardinals already weak depth.
A January 9th home game against a strong Marquette squad could be an accurate barometer of how Louisville is going to do against its conference rivals this season.
Marquette set a conference record by holding Division I newcomer Morris Brown to 11 points in the first half of a 85-38 win on January 2nd. The Golden Eagles are 11th in the nation in scoring defense, holding their opponents to 59 points per game.
DePaul’s win on December 29th over Missouri – then ranked ninth – lifted the Blue Demons to 7-4 and will be huge for their NCAA Tournament hopes. It was also C-USA’s 11th win all-time against non-conference opponents ranked in the Top 10.