The Dagger - NCAAB

In the buildup to Thursday night's crosstown showdown between Cincinnati and Xavier,  coach Mick Cronin attempted to motivate his players by declaring that the 25th-ranked Bearcats still aren't getting the respect they deserve. 

"I'm going to use that lack of respect even though we are ranked," Cronin said. "We are still not ranked where we probably deserve to be ranked considering the losses of some of the other people have had ahead of us. So I will keep playing that card as long as I can with the team."

A dominant 66-46 thrashing of perennial Atlantic 10 power Xavier will certainly generate some respect for Cincinnati, but the Musketeers simply aren't good enough this season to provide the Bearcats with the splashy win they need. For Cincinnati to be taken seriously as a NCAA tournament team and Big East contender, the undefeated Bearcats will have to hold their own against the conference's upper echelon, beginning with Sunday's visit to seventh-ranked Villanova.

While Cronin's posturing surely fostered an us-against-the-world mentality among his players, the Cincinnati coach must understand why his team's gaudy 15-0 record hasn't garnered his team a place in the top 20. Aside from demolishing in-state Atlantic 10 foes Dayton and Xavier, the Bearcats don't have a single decent win.

Just because it's not time to anoint Cincinnati as a Big East contender yet doesn't mean there wasn't a lot to like from how the Bearcats dispatched of the Musketeers far more easily than expected.

Yancy Gates looked terrific against Xavier, scoring 22 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and dominating the Musketeers frontline in the low post. Cashmere Wright created off the dribble, Dion Dixon had 16 points and the Musketeers played suffocating defense.

There's enough evidence to suggest that Cincinnati would contend in the Atlantic 10, but can the Bearcats do the same in the Big East? That's a question that can't be answered until Sunday at the soonest. 

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