Welcome to Playboy.com’s 2014 Bracket Challenge

The Cincinnati Bearcats are priving to be a viable NCAA tournament contender but will this newly crowned college basketball powerhouse hold up come March Madness tournament time

Team Preview: 2014 Cincinnati Bearcats

By: Rob Kirkaldy

2012-2013 Record: 22-11 (9-9 in Big East Conference games)

Coach: Mick Cronin (218-125 overall)

A Bearcats team that was expected to be middling at best is tearing up the competition. But with Coach Mick Cronin, a competitive freshman class and a defense that has stymied opposing teams, Cincinnati could very well be the first story to emerge from the new American Conference come March.

Strongside: Defense, defense, defense. So far this season, the Bearcats have held most opponents to fewer than 60 points. While that might be expected against teams like Appalachian State, the Memphis Tigers tied themselves in knots against the Bearcats after being held below 60 in a 69-53 loss. Now as conference play begins in earnest, the Bearcats sit atop the AAC, riding a fourteen-game winning streak.

That is not a typo. In a conference with Memphis and Louisville, the Bearcats are 10-0 and Rick Pitino’s protégé is in the running for Coach of the Year.

Just look at the season-on-season stats so far. Foul shooting? Up. Rebounding? Up. Shots from the field? Up. And early questions about whether the defense would work in conference play seem to have been put to rest early.

And Mick Cronin’s seeing results from some surprising places. Justin Jackson has been named AAC Player of the Week three times so far this season. Against SMU, Jackson led Cincinnati in blocks, steals and assists. Also, rebounds. And points. If he keeps that up, the Bearcats’ forward might need to make room on the mantel for some hardware of his own.

Sean Kilpatrick has also been strong and it’s worth noting that Titus Rubles and freshman Jermaine Lawrence have provided key support on rebounding.

Weakside: “It’s only January,” the haters will scoff. And they might be right. If someone calls up Mike D’Antoni, or decides to leaf through a copy of Seven Seconds or Less, the Bearcats could be in trouble.

A toe injury has sidelined Jermaine Lawrence indefinitely, placing a key rebounder on the bench. Part of the Bearcats’ success thus far stems from their control of the offensive boards. Mick Cronin has run the same starters all season, so he’ll be forced to rearrange his lineup just as it was hitting its stride and as conference play heats up.

Luckily for Cronin, the conference schedule loads key match-ups in February and March, with January games against also-rans including Temple and UCF. Unfortunately for Cronin, that leaves tons of time for the wheels to fall off and injury troubles to mount.

All Told: The Shoe is electric again and Mick Cronin’s team is poised to take on all comers. If Cronin keeps this up, comparisons to former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins will go by the wayside as fans begin to wonder if Ed Jucker might be a more appropriate comparison.


Rob Kirkaldy is a lifelong basketball fan who has contributed work to a number of Canadian publications. He’s lived and worked in four countries, on one planet.

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