After suffering its second blowout of the season on Dec. 20, this time to VCU, Cincinnati sat at 7-3 with a head coach out of commission. At that point, hearing “the Cincinnati Bearcats” called on Selection Sunday for the fifth straight season seemed unlikely.
But the Bearcats did have the home victory over #18 San Diego State in the “quality win” category. And as head coach Mick Cronin’s situation settled and associate head coach Larry Davis assumed the leadership role, UC beat the tar out of NC State in Raleigh and followed that up with a Farad-Cobb-sparked 56-50 muscle flex against arguably the best team in the American Conference, hall of famer Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs.
Now, Cincinnati sits in the mid-30’s in the RPI. For those of you not familiar, the RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index. It’s a computer ranking system that takes into account your winning percentage, your opponents’ winning percentage and your opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage, as well as a few other factors. The NCAA Tournament selection committee looks to RPI when deciding whether or not to invite a fringe team to the Dance. If your RPI ranking is 40 or below, you’re almost a shoe-in.
So here’s the issue for the now-Larry-Davis-led Bearcats: The American Conference is, all things considered, a pile of garbage. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. Let’s just say that UC will have a hard time boosting its RPI ranking the rest of the way, and it will desperately need to guard against that ranking dropping like a sack of potatoes.
Tonight’s game (Tuesday, 7:00, ESPNU: Mike Couzens [who??] and Brooke Weisbrod on the call) will without a doubt hurt UC’s RPI ranking, win or lose. East Carolina comes to Fifth Third Arena sitting at #283. Cincinnati simply cannot lose this game. It’s out of the question. And so we’ll be watching on pins and needles, shoulders tense and fists clenched, sphincters coiled, until, hopefully, the game ends with more points on UC’s side of the scoreboard. And that will be the case in nearly every game the rest of the regular season.
Take a look at the RPI for each team in the American Conference:
|Temple||33||Won at UConn|
|Cincinnati||34||They have Farad Cobb|
|SMU||39||My pick to win league|
|Tulsa||40||(I don’t know how)|
|Xavier||49||UC’s final non-conference game|
|UConn||84||Huskies usually wayyyy higher|
|Memphis||105||9 new players|
|South Florida||199||Get them away from us already|
|Houston||228||New coach is Kelvin Sampson|
|Central Fla||238||Pesky but not very good|
After battling Jeff Lebo’s East Carolina Pirates, the Bearcats then go to UConn (#84) and Memphis (#105). It’s tough to ask an inexperienced team to grab a sweep on the road, especially against UConn and Memphis, regardless of what kind of seasons the Huskies and Tigers are having to this point. But sh*t, man, you can’t afford to lose to teams near the bottom or outside of the Top 100.
The good news is that the Temple Owls surprised everybody by waxing Kansas by 25 a week and a half ago, so their RPI should hover in the 30’s as long as Fran Dunphy’s boys don’t lose to somebody from the bottom of the standings either.
In my estimation, here’s what has to happen for the Bearcats to make it to the NCAA Tournament (if Oc Ellis and the crew do not win the conference tournament):
1) Undefeated at home
2) Beat Xavier
3) 3 or 4 losses at the most (2 loss max to UConn/Tulane/Memphis)
4) 0 losses to USF, HOU, UCF, ECU
Gonna be a lot of “sweatin’ ’em out,” huh?
We continue the journey tonight, at home, against East Carolina. A loss is out of the question. And that will be the theme for nearly every game the rest of the way. But that can be a good thing, because if you’re playing for your life for two months, and you do sneak into the brackets, you’re tested and you’ve built enough toughness to win some more games.
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