NCAA Tournament Seed: 9 (West)
How they got to the Big Dance
Cincinnati was in the national spotlight Friday night after junior Kevin Johnson hit an apparent game-winning shot over Connecticut. But UConn freshman Jalen Adams banked in a three quarter-court buzzer beater to send the game to a fourth overtime. The Huskies eventually defeated the Bearcats 104-97. While the win Friday night would have been great for their tournament résumé, the Bearcats’ four RPI Top 50 wins were strong enough to get them an at-large bid. They have beaten Connecticut twice, VCU once, and beat No. 24 SMU last week. They have 22 wins and an RPI of 44 – good statistics in two categories the committee looks at carefully.
Why they are a legitimate contender
Four RPI top 50 wins don’t just happen; the Bearcats are a good team that can take down higher ranked opponents. Mick Cronin consistently leads Cincinnati to the tournament, as they are one of just 11 teams to appear in each of the last five NCAA Tournaments. Junior Troy Caupain set an AAC record with 37 points in the UConn game Friday. Teams will look to slow him down, but Cincinnati can win even if Caupain doesn’t have a career night; four different players average at least 10 points per game.
Why they are not a legitimate contender
While the Bearcats have 22 wins, only seven came against teams in the RPI top 100. Teams outside the RPI top 150 contributed for 14 of their 22 wins. Beating Norfolk State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff doesn’t exactly get a team ready to play in the NCAA tournament. Caupain is the team’s best scorer, but his 13.2 points per game are only 13th best in the AAC. Cincinnati does not appear to have the talent or the résumé to make a serious run in the Big Dance.
Player to Watch – Gary Clark
Clark, a sophomore forward, is averaging almost a double-double this year. He is scoring 10.7 points per game while pulling down nine rebounds. Clark can impact a game in multiple ways, and is second in the AAC in rebounds. If Clark can keep possessions alive for the Bearcats with offensive rebounds and start fast breaks after pulling in defensive rebounds, Cincinnati will be hard to defend.