The answer to the question “Is it basketball season yet?” is almost “Yes.” And Mick Cronin’s Bearcats appear primed for a great season.
USA Today released the preseason edition of its coaches poll this afternoon, and the hype around the 2016-17 Bearcats continues to grow. UC is ranked #25 according to the coaches.
We know very well that these preseason polls are often worth less than the paper they’re printed on, so take that ranking with a grain of salt, but it is still very nice to see the Bearcats coming into the season already on the national radar – the last time that happened was the 2013-14 season, when Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati to an AAC regular season title.
What’s also great about this preseason ranking is that UC will be tested early and often in non-conference play, as opposed to blowing through bottom-feeder after bottom-feeder early on. UC has the potential to face preseason #1 Duke in just the second week of the season if it can knock off Rhode Island in the first round of the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. Talk about the ultimate test. I’m not going to lie and say that I expect to beat Duke, but if the Bearcats pull the upset, I won’t be surprised. They have the horses to do it.
UC is led by two senior leaders in the backcourt, Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson. Caupain is likely to be a preseason first-team all-AAC selection. Interior force Gary Clark is also back, and the Bearcats add NC state transfer Kyle Washington at Center and potential freshman phenom Jarron Cumberland on the wing.
Aside from the potential neutral site game against the Blue Devils, UC will play true road games against Iowa State and Butler – both are receiving votes in the preseason poll. Both will be huge tests, and we’ll find out a lot about the Bearcats before December’s over based on those two or three games. Wither way, the selection committee respects teams that play tough games, but UC could either be out of the rankings or in the Top 10 by the time league play starts at the first of the year.
It takes a lot of guts to schedule two true road games, especially against potential Top-25 opposition, and for that, Mick Cronin deserves a lot or credit. Plus, I love home-and-homes in college sports, especially basketball. There are too many lifeless neutral site games played in cavernous, empty pro arenas (and convention centers in Puerto Rico, and crappy D-II gyms on the Gulf Coast of Florida, etc., etc., etc.). College sports belong on campus. The campus atmosphere is the best part.
And of course, rounding out the non-league schedule is a home date with Xavier for the annual Crosstown Shootout. The Muskies are ranked at #8 in the preseason, and will pose a huge test for UC, which has lost three straight against the boys from Norwood Jesuit.