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1999-2000 Season Review




While addressing the 1999-2000 Bearcats during preseason practice, head coach Bob Huggins issued this challenge:

"You can be a good team. You can go out and win 26 or 28 games and get to the NCAA tournament. Or you can be a great team."

Cincinnati certainly had the ingredients to reach the status of a great team. Among the returning Bearcat veterans was last year's team scoring and rebounding leader, Pete Mickeal; the two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and national player of the year candidate, Kenyon Martin; plus two senior stalwarts on the front line, Jermaine Tate and Ryan Fletcher, and an established point guard, Steve Logan.

That cast was augmented by a pair of newcomers who had earned high school All-America honors, DerMarr Johnson and Kenny Satterfield, headlining a talented class of recruits.

The biggest question was how quickly the vets and newcomers would mesh into a cohesive team, and how quickly all would commit to Huggins' style of play which demands total effort in practice as well as in competition.

Hence, Huggins' challenge of being another good Cincinnati team-his last four squads had averaged 27 victories and each of his last eight teams had copped conference regular season and/or tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA tourney-or being a team to be remembered as one of the school's all-time best.

Early Schedule Challenging
Cincinnati's early schedule required that the Bearcats come of age very quickly. The Bearcats were slated to face three Top 25-ranked teams plus an arch rival in their first eight contests, and only two of those games would be played in the friendly confines of Shoemaker Center. The pollsters placed some additional expectations on Cincinnati. UC moved into the No. 1 ranking in both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls.

With Logan the only returnee in the backcourt, rookies Johnson and Satterfield would be called upon to make significant contributions immediately.

Johnson, filling the vacancy in the starting lineup at shooting guard, showed he was capable of doing just that in Cincinnati's opener. The 6-9 freshman fired in 18 points to help spark a 94-67 rout of Youngstown State.

Martin took over the scoring leadership in Cincinnati's next three games at the Big Island Invitational and averaged 20.3 points en rout to tournament MVP honors. The freshmen continued to match that level of play. Satterfield demonstrated his ability to direct the offense while recording 10 assists on two difference occasions and Johnson averaged 15.0 points for the three games. Both were voted to the all-tournament team.

Back in their home state but still 250 miles away from the Shoe, the Bearcats handed No. 25 Gonzaga a 75-68 defeat at the Rock-N-Roll Shootout in Cleveland. Logan, a 6-foot sophomore from Cleveland, celebrated his return to his hometown with a 21-point performance.

Four days later, Cincinnati faced No. 7 North Carolina in the Great Eight in Chicago. Mickeal, who had been playing a secondary role in UC's offense, exploded for 21 points in the 77-68 victory over the Tar Heels. Martin, who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, was accorded Great Eight MVP honors.

The Bearcats rolled to a 74-48 win over Mississippi Valley State. Satterfield, who had averaged a whopping 6.5 assists over the first six contests, scored a team-leading 16 points. Johnson exploded for 23 points in a 79-64 victory over Saint Louis.

Cincinnati entered its crosstown grudge match with Xavier riding an 8-0 start and five straight weeks of holding the nation's No. 1 ranking. Xavier stunned UC with a 66-64 upset.

Bearcats Begin Streak
The Bearcats rebounded with a convincing 72-57 win over No. 21 Oklahoma. Johnson tallied 10 points to help UC open a 10-point advantage at halftime and Martin exploded for 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. Cincinnati also reaffirmed its reputation for its defensive play by holding the Sooners, who entered the game with a .501 field goal percentage, to .300 shooting.

Following easy wins over Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Boise State, the Bearcats exploded for a season-high 106 points in routing UNLV, 106-66. Mickeal paced the Bearcats to their next four victories. The 6-6 senior scored 20 points to spark the 81-54 victory over UNC Charlotte, and tallied 23 points in the 67-48 win over Marquette three days later. UC returned to the nation's No. 1 ranking.

The Bearcats utilized its half-court trapping defense to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit in a 72-59 win at Tulane. Martin recorded 27 points and 13 rebounds. Mickeal, who had 18 points in the Tulane victory, tallied 18 in the 73-59 win over Ohio. He became third player in C-USA history to earn back-to-back league player of the week honors.

Martin Gets Triple-Double
The 75-55 victory over Memphis was Kenyon Martin's night. Martin recorded his second career triple-double and the 13th in UC history with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks.

Cincinnati jumped out to a 23-2 lead in its 72-60 win at Marquette. Jermaine Tate, who finished with a UC career-high 15 points, scored 12 in the first half to match the Golden Eagles' point total as the Bearcats set a C-USA record for fewest points allowed in a half.

DerMarr Johnson launched the 75-65 win over Louisville with 21 first-half points. Satterfield took over the starting assignment at point guard, recording 11 points and 10 assists.

Martin, attracting increased consideration for national player of the year honors, began fueling that campaign with his performances. He began a streak in which he reached double-doubles in seven of his next eight games. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the 89-72 win over South Florida, 20 points and eight boards in the 70-62 trimming of UNC Charlotte, 31 points and 16 rebounds in the 93-80 win over UAB, 23 points and 13 boards in the 87-64 victory over DePaul and 26 points and 17 rebounds in the 77-65 win over Houston, the latter victory clinching the C-USA regular season title.

Cincinnati's win streak reached 16 and the Bearcats had reigned as the nation's No. 1 team for six weeks. No. 15 Temple stopped both those streaks, plus UC's 42-game home win skein, with a 77-69 win. The Owls, who entered the game with a .399 team field goal percentage, shot .521 and became the first team to shoot .500 or better against UC in 63 games.

Martin Takes Over
Kenyon Martin, who had attracted attention for national player of the year honors, entrenched his candidacy with his performances over the final two weeks of regular season.

Martin led the Bearcats' 95-69 rout over Southern Mississippi with a new career-high 33 points. He had 24 points and 12 rebounds to help Cincinnati hold off Louisville, 68-59.

Martin led Cincinnati's comeback effort vs. DePaul, scoring 16 of UC's final 20 points over the last 8:38 as the Bearcats overcame a 17-point deficit. After tying the game with 22 seconds to play, he found a wide-open DerMarr Johnson who sank the game-winning basket with 2.6 seconds to play in the 64-62 win.

The Bearcats closed out a perfect 16-0 C-USA regular season with an 84-41 rout of Saint Louis. Martin and Pete Mickeal capped senior day activities with 23 and 21 points, respectively. The win, coupled with Stanford's upset earlier in the day, returned Cincinnati to No. 1 in the polls.

Postseason
Cincinnati entered postseason play with the expectations of parlaying its success into a run for the national championship. Those hopes were dashed three minutes into the Bearcats' first game in the Conference USA tournament when Martin went down with a season-ending leg fracture. Cincinnati lost its quarterfinal game to Saint Louis, which went on to win the C-USA title. The loss of Martin cost Cincinnati the No. 1 seed the Bearcats had coveted with their performance all season. UC was seeded No. 2 and sent to the South Regional in Nashville.

The retooled Bearcats, without their consensus player of the year in the middle, deployed its suffocating defense to defeat UNC Wilmington, 64-47, in the opening round. UC held UNCW to .288 shooting.

Tulsa ended Cincinnati's season with a 69-61 win in the second round. The Bearcats showed their metal in fighting back from a 16-point deficit and took a five-point lead with five minutes to play. The Hurricane rallied for the upset.

Epilogue
The 1999-2000 season will be remembered as the "only if" campaign as the late-season injury to Kenyon Martin appeared to have cost Cincinnati a return to the Final Four, if not a national championship.

The fact remains that the Bearcats did fashion the great season that head coach Bob Huggins had set as their challenge, if one views the season in its entirety.

Cincinnati tied the school record for victories with 29, trampling through Conference USA-rated as the nation's third-best conference in the computer polls-with an unblemished 16-0 ledger.

The Bearcats spent 12 weeks as the nation's No. 1 team. Though disappointed that they were not seeded No. 1, their No. 2 seed marked the fifth straight season in which the Bearcats had attained a top three seed, a feat no other team has accomplished.

Martin established himself as one of Cincinnati's all-time greats while becoming a consensus choice for national player of the year honors. Pete Mickeal joined Martin in claiming All-American honors. UC was well-represented on Conference USA's honor roll, with Martin garnering his third straight Defensive Player of the Year award to go along with his Player of the Year trophy, and DerMarr Johnson earning Freshman of the Year Honors. Huggins won his third straight Ray Meyer Award as C-USA coach of the year.

Cincinnati further enhanced its reputation as one of college basketball's elite programs.

 

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