It took a 14-game win streak to start the season, but the Cincinnati Bearcats are finally ranked in the latest Associated Press Poll and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, both released today.
The Bearcats appear at No. 24 in the AP Poll and No. 25 in today's Coaches Poll after remaining the only unranked, undefeated team in the nation for several weeks. While UC's strength of schedule was the biggest strike against their inclusion in the top-25, wins in their first two Big East Conference games (by 16 over DePaul and by 17 over Seton Hall) finally convinced just enough voters in each poll that the 'Cats were worthy.
Typically in college sports, if a team isn't given enough respect in national polls or rankings, coaches and players brush off the lack of attention with some excuse such as "we just play the games that are scheduled" or "we don't pay attention to the polls." Not in the case of Mick Cronin and the Bearcats, however. Cincy's players and coaches went on the offensive, defending their schedule and abilities. They have argued strenously that they are worthy of the respect that they have fought hard to regain since the departure of Bob Huggins.
Their point is well taken. The Bearcats could do no better than their 14-0 record. Their are plenty of teams that have played "weak" schedules - weaker than Cincinnati's - yet only seven unranked teams remain.
Coach Mick Cronin has heard the criticism about his "soft" schedule. But, as he told ESPN's Andy Katz recently, he wants to make this point clear: He did go on the road.
The Bearcats played two true road games -- at MAC schools Toledo and Miami (Ohio). That's two more than four Big East teams -- Syracuse, Connecticut, Pitt and Notre Dame. Those four didn't play a true road game in the nonconference schedule. They were all in neutral-site tournaments in New Jersey, Maui, New York and Orlando, but to their credit, they won them all.
Cincinnati plays hated rival Xavier on Thursday before it travelling to No. 7 Villanova. The Bearcats play four of the next five games on the road: at Villanova, home for South Florida, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame and at St. John's.
"I'm not saying we'll win all of those games, but we're ready to handle it,'' Cronin told Katz. "We've got veteran guys. Our guys understand. We will get beat if we don't play well.''
Cronin thinks his team's road schedule will ultimately prove to be one of the toughest in the Big East. It includes road games against the projected top five teams in the league -- Pitt, Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown and Notre Dame. "It's five brutal road games,'' Cronin said. "And we play Georgetown twice … all we can do is keep winning. We had the most young players in the conference, and now we've got juniors and seniors leading us.''
And that's why the Bearcats, whether they are ranked or not, will have to earn the bid in the Big East. "If you look at our home games, our goal is to go 9-0 at home, that's our first goal,'' Cronin said. "Then we've got to steal some on the road.''
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