Cincinnati’s last appearance in the national rankings was probably all too brief for its liking.
The No. 22 Bearcats shouldn’t have a problem hanging on to their current spot after this week’s only game against visiting Texas Southern on Tuesday night.
Cincinnati (4-1) was voted into this week’s AP Top 25 thanks to back-to-back upsets of then-No. 24 Vanderbilt and then-No. 21 Maryland in last week’s Maui Invitational. Even a two-point overtime loss to Gonzaga in Wednesday’s tournament championship couldn’t keep the Bearcats from their first appearance in a national poll since Jan. 9, 2006.
“At the end of the day, this has been a great trip for us,” coach Mick Cronin said. “Everybody can see that Cincinnati basketball is back on the map, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Cincinnati did go somewhere when it last played as a ranked team - it went in reverse. They started 13-2 in 2005-06 to reach No. 25 in the country, but then lost three straight en route to a 21-13 finish.
While Cincinnati entered that poll during Big East play, it will have nine days off for final exams after facing the Tigers (3-4).
The Bearcats’ following contest is against Miami (Ohio), a game that precedes a difficult nonconference matchup, at crosstown Xavier on Dec. 13.
How long Cincinnati stays in the rankings could largely depend on how quickly its young team matures. The Bearcats feature just two seniors on their roster, including all-Big East guard Deonta Vaughn.
Sophomore forward Yancy Gates leads the team with 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. The only other players scoring in double figures are Vaughn (11.3 ppg), who has led the team in each of his three previous seasons, and highly-touted freshman forward Lance Stephenson (10.8).
Cincinnati has thrived, however, on the strength of a defense limiting opponents 36.5 percent shooting 60.7 points per game.
That should be more than enough to contain a Texas Southern team that’s cracked 80 points once in seven games this season.
The Tigers didn’t even come close to that in last season’s matchup at Fifth Third Arena, an 82-51 loss. DeAndre Hall accounted for more than half of their offensive output with 29 points - at the time a career high which he later topped by one point.
After leading Texas Southern with 13.8 points per game in 2008-09, Hall’s 13.9-point average as a senior this season is third behind juniors Travele Jones (17.1) and Whitworth Treasure (16.0).
Vaughn, who scored 12 points last season against the Tigers, needs 13 assists to surpass Oscar Robertson for third on Cincinnati’s career list and is 41 points shy of 10th in scoring.
This is the third meeting between the schools. The Bearcats also won their first meeting with Texas Southern 87-44 on Dec. 1, 1992, and they are 9-0 all-time against Southwestern Athletic Conference teams.