Sean Kilpatrick leads Cincinnati in scoring at 20 points per game.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A year ago, a downcast Mick Cronin criticized his Cincinnati Bearcats for trying to be a "pretty team" when Marshall came to Fifth Third Arena and played a surprising bully role.Cronin didn't take long to survey the stat sheet to come up with this conclusion: "The score of the game was 43 to 30, Marshall, period."The honest-to-the-record-book score was 73-69, with the Thundering Herd upsetting the Bearcats in overtime. Cronin referred to the rebounding battle, in which the Herd had a pronounced upper hand.One could figure the undefeated Bearcats will remember that when they come calling Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center in the return bout. When the ball goes up at 2 p.m., "bout" could be the operative term.
The Bearcats rebounded from that loss to Marshall, a brawl-marred Crosstown Shootout with Xavier and an overtime loss to West Virginia to advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16, where Ohio State finally knocked out Cronin's squad. With a stacked backcourt returning and a physical presence continued, the Bearcats have been in the top 25 from the beginning.Their No. 11 spot in the Associated Press poll is their highest since the final poll of 2003-04, and they are starting 9-0 for the second time in three years. Entering today, they were one of 14 undefeated teams left in Division I.Sean Kilpatrick, a second-team All-Big East selection last season, is the biggest name. The 6-foot-4, 221-pound native of Yonkers, N.Y., averages 20 points and 6.1 rebounds, and has been a Big East player of the week once. His field-goal shooting is topping 50 percent, and he is shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range.He had 19 points in last year's Marshall game, and senior Cashmere Wright had a season-high 10 assists. Both Kilpatrick and Wright broke the 1,000-point career barrier in the same game, the 58-56 win over Alabama and Wright, now averaging 15.0 points and 3.6 assists, hit a buzzer-beater for the victory.Senior JaQuon Parker, who missed last year's Marshall game with a groin injury, fills out the backcourt trio with 11.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
The Bearcats lost beefy Yancy Gates, but enjoy a good enough rotation inside to maintain a plus-11 average margin in rebounding. Justin Jackson, a 6-8 junior, averages a team-high 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks; 6-10 Senegal native Cheikh Mbodj averages 5.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in about 17 minutes.Off the bench, the Bearcats have another Senegalese big man, 7-1 David Nyarsuk. And yes, he is the former West Virginia signee who detoured through now-defunct Mountain State, leading the Cougars to the 2011 NAIA championship game and the 2012 semifinals. He has a five-block game this season, against North Carolina A&T.Cincinnati's win over Alabama came in the SEC-Big East Challenge, and it came after the Bearcats downed Iowa State (78-70) and Oregon (77-66). Scheduling oddity: The Bearcats will not play a nonconference opponent on its true home court this season.In fact, Saturday's game is the closest to a true road game. Even odder: Cincinnati is driving 50-plus miles farther to play at the Civic Center than it would to get to MU's Cam Henderson Center. Tickets are $15 and $25, and are available through Marshall (800-THE-HERD) and the Civic Center Box office. $10 tickets are available through MU's athletic website, herdzone.com. nn
UC president Santa Ono has an open pledge to shave his head if the school wins 10 straight games in either football or basketball. So if the Bearcats beat Marshall, the clippers come out.Ono persuaded athletic director Whit Babcock and student body president Lane Hart to join him. The barbering won't take place until after the holiday break, though.