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ALSO RECEIVING VOTES....

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(Courtesy downthedrive.com)

      Are they any good?

      UC men's basketball is now 9-0. That's something that hasn't been done since 2005 when interim coach Andy Kennedy took an unblemished mark into January before losing at Connecticut on a night Armein Kirkland tore an ACL.

      Prior to that, Bob Huggins had such marks in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2003 and 2004 thanks to such names as Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin and Jason Maxiell. One might note, those players all went onto NBA careers.

      Your Final Four and Elite Eight teams of '91-'92 and '92-'93 DID NOT have the start that Mick Cronin's squad has thus far. Yet, those players are considered UC legends now along with the Oscar Robertson semi-final teams and (obviously) the back-to-back National Champions from '61 and '62.

      THIS team is undefeated and yet is not ranked as many Bearcat teams were instantaneously in the 90s and at the beginning of this decade.

      So, what's it all mean and what does it matter?

      "I have no clue, me personally," said starting point guard Cashmere Wright. "People think maybe we haven't played (any) teams yet. We're not ranked so we're going to keep playing hard, keep playing these games. Eventually, if you win enough, you will be."

      For Head Coach Mick Cronin though, a ranking is sometimes not a blessing, but a curse. (UC was ranked briefly last year after a successful Maui Invitational, only to struggle later.)

      "Doesn't help you win games," said Cronin. "It probably helps you lose games to be honest with you."

      While last year's team beat national programs like Vanderbilt and Maryland in Maui (before losing to Gonzaga in the final) this year's group has had a considerably easier schedule.

      The closest game has been a six-point win over IPFW (who took Xavier to OT at Cintas Center) and the most notable teams on the docket have been Wright State, Dayton and Toledo. The Bearcats beat the Raiders by eight, and the Flyers and Rockets by 34 each.

In an odd way, Mick Cronin feels the Bearcats are suffering some in credibility BECAUSE they blew out last year's NIT champion Dayton Flyers (who eliminated the Bearcats last March in that tournament at Fifth Third Arena).

      "We played Dayton and unfortunately, we won too easily," said Cronin. "If we had played a close game, we would've gotten more credit for it. I know they lost at the buzzer to Old Dominion who won the Virgin Islands tournament. The problem was we beat them too easily. If we'd have won that game in a close game, we probably would've gotten a lot more respect for it. I don't think we get a lot of credit for that game."

      To senior Rashad Bishop (and most astute basketball observers) the Bearcats are flying under the radar for obvious reasons.

      "Because we haven't played anybody that's been ranked," explained Bishop.

      That's why several of the Bearcats are looking ahead to Oklahoma. Even though the Sooners aren't ranked, they bring more national notoriety than your run-of-the-mill, pre-conference, hyphenated directional schools.

      "I'm ready to go to Oklahoma, personally," said Cashmere Wright. "Then I'm ready to play Xavier. We've got to beat Xavier, that's just how I feel. We've got to go to Oklahoma and take care of business and then everything will take care of itself."

      There again, a ranking isn't necessarily the key to a successful season. Many will recall the Final Four team of '92 didn't receive a ranking until mid-January.

      "It would be cool," said Wright of a possible ranking. "As long as we play in the tournament. That's the goal this year. We were ranked last year and didn't make the tournament. The big thing is to make the tournament."

      Naturally, those sentiments are echoed by Coach Cronin, who has made a CBI and a NIT, but hasn't coached in the NCAA since he headed up the Murray State Racers.

      "Winning in January is a lot harder than winning in November and December," said Cronin. "I don't care if you play in the Maui Invitational in November. It doesn't matter, it's different. You can see teams that are great in November and they can't win a game in February. You've got to make sure you improve."

      There's no denying the teamwork, the defense and the passing has improved with this team, not to mention the all-important word, "chemistry". The next step is to do it in meaningful games--like Oklahoma and the two Big East games that wrap up the end of the year (DePaul and Seton Hall).

      "When the talent level goes up, the mistakes you make--you have to minimize them," said Wright. "I can't wait for that time to come so we can show them what we learned over the summer."

      "We're not really fully there yet, but we're close," added Bishop.

      It might not be a definitive answer, but we should have a clue on this team's progress Saturday in Norman.

      A win against Oklahoma might not necessarily guarantee future success, but it could mean that it's coming "Sooner" rather than later.



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