During the preseason, the talk of the conference was about Memphis’ talent (Dajuan Wagner and Kelly Wise), Louisville’s youth (Carlos Hurt) and upstart USF.
But coach Seth Greenberg knew better.
He warned the media not to overlook Cincinnati, which lost its opening game of the season and began the season No. 29. While the list of contenders trying to knock the kings of the hill off was growing, Greenberg paraphrased a quote made famous by former wrestler Ric Flair – to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.
“In my mind, they are still the team to beat,” Greenberg said before the season. “Until someone knocks them off, they are at the top.”
And since the first game, the No. 5 Bearcats have done little to disprove Greenberg’s preseason assessment. Cincinnati dropped its season-opener 69-62 at Oklahoma State.
Since then, the Bearcats have been, well – unbeatable.
Cincinnati (18-1, 6-0 in Conference USA) is riding the crest of a nation’s-best 18-game winning streak, the third longest in school history. The Bearcats are coming off a 54-50 win against Saint Louis in their last outing.
Cincinnati will have quite a bit of history on its side when the Bearcats square off with the Bulls (12-5, 3-2 in C-USA) Saturday at noon in the Sun Dome.
“The key for us in handling them will be matching their intensity,” Greenberg said.
The Bearcats, leaders in the American Division, own a 10-game winning streak against USF and have never lost a regular-season game (24-0) against a team from the National side since C-USA adopted the two-division format in 1997-98. But according to Greenberg, the Bearcats’ past dominance against the Bulls – and the rest of the National Division – will mean little Saturday.
“Every year is a new team and a new experience for us,” Greenberg said.
A major part of the Bearcats’ recent dominance has been senior guard Steve Logan, last year’s Conference USA Player of the Year. Logan has been a model of consistency for Cincinnati, scoring in double digits for a remarkable 40 straight games, during which he has averaged 21.1 points. For the season, the midseason Wooden Award candidate is averaging a C-USA best 21.7 points per game. Logan captured back-to-back C-USA Player of the Week Awards this season and was named the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.
“Steve Logan has a Ph.D. in basketball,” Greenberg said. “He is the smartest, most complete basketball player we’ll face all season.”
Greenberg said the key to breaking the Bearcats’ stranglehold against the Bulls will be not letting Bob Huggins’ team get comfortable in their fast-breaking style of play, led by Cincinnati’s backcourt of Leonard Stokes (13.2 ppg, 4 rpg) and Logan.
“We have got to slow down their transition game and get to the glass,” Greenberg said. “Logan and Stokes are a talented, talented backcourt. We’ve got to contest shots.”
USF halted a two-game losing streak with a 68-54 win Wednesday at Tulane led by Altron Jackson’s 17 points. Jackson needs 16 points Saturday to overtake former Charlotte guard DeMarco Johnson as C-USA’s all-time leading scorer.