With fans slow to warm to his newly ranked team, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wants his players to generate buzz with inspired performances.
Following a nine-day break for final exams, the 19th-ranked Bearcats will try to produce another strong effort and earn their 11th straight win over visiting Miami of Ohio, which nearly upset another Top 25 team earlier this season.
Cincinnati played for the first time as a ranked team since 2005-06 on Dec. 1 against visiting Texas Southern and seven players reached double figures in a 94-57 victory.
To bounce back from their season’s first loss, the Bearcats (5-1) shot a season-best 57.4 percent and topped their season high for points by two. They also matched a season low for points allowed on 33.3 percent shooting and had a 47-25 rebounding advantage.
However, only 6,825 were there to witness the performance, which frustrated Cronin.
“I understand the rebuilding process, but we’re ranked in the Top 25,” the Cincinnati coach said. “I understood the frustration with the dismissal of a legendary coach (Bob Huggins). I understand the frustration with a lot of things, but that was four years ago. As we sit here today, we’re ranked in the Top 25.”
A stout defense that’s allowing 60.5 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting has helped Cincinnati reach its highest ranking since Jan. 13, 2005, but the program hasn’t won more than 18 games since 2005-06.
“I also talked (to the players) about trying to win fans over and send the message that we’re for real, we need your support and get the arena filled up again,” Cronin said.
The leadership of all-Big East guard Deonta Vaughn, who has averaged 12.0 points and a team-leading 4.8 assists, and the play of young forwards Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson could help the Bearcats accomplish that.
Gates, a sophomore, leads the team in scoring (12.2 ppg), shooting (57.4 percent) and rebounding (8.3). Stephenson has added 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds but the freshman’s most important role is as one of the team’s top defenders.
They shouldn’t have a problem with a struggling Miami team, but they would be wise not to take the RedHawks too lightly.
In its second game this season, Miami (2-6) nearly upset No. 4 Kentucky at Rupp Arena until Wildcats star freshman John Wall hit a jumper as time expired in a 72-70 loss.
The defeat dropped the RedHawks to 0-13 against Top 25 teams since 2002-03, a skid that includes two defeats at Cincinnati.
Miami, however, hasn’t faced a ranked Bearcats team since Dec. 27, 2004, and the longtime rivals will meet for the first time since Cincinnati’s 56-50 victory on Dec. 29, 2007.
Vaughn scored a team-best 17 points in that win, and current RedHawks leading scorer Kenny Hayes had eight.
With 12.8 points per game, the senior guard is one of two Miami players averaging in double figures along with junior forward Nick Winbush (12.6).
Losers of back-to-back games, the RedHawks are averaging just 64.3 points and giving up 69.8 per game. They shot 35.4 percent in Tuesday night’s 64-42 home loss to Temple.
Cincinnati has played Miami more than any other school in its history, holding a 91-53 series lead.