The last time the Bearcats played the Cougars they dominated most of the game. The lead reached 21 in the second half before the bottom fell out on offense and the Cougars rallied to make it far closer. UC won in the end 61-60, but it never should have come to that, and UC knows it. That game would have been nothing more than an outlier, but the same problem has crept up time and again.
The Bearcats beat South Florida by just five at home, only 7 on the road and found themselves in a shootout with Temple winning by just four on the road. Yes the Bearcats won all those games, and winning is the point. But there is more to it than that.
UC has found themselves ranked in the top 10 for consecutive weeks for the first time since 2003-04 when UC was in the top 10 for four straight weeks in January and February. The Bearcats defense will make them a threat for a deep run in the tournament and a legitimate national title contender. But they need to start playing like it against the teams that are obviously beneath them.
Today it is Houston, this Wednesday it will be on the road against UCF and in the final game of the regular season it will be a road trip to Rutgers. Those three teams are obviously inferior to Cincinnati, and UC needs to play like it in those games, something they haven't done much of this season. The Bearcats have had only one game in conference where they have well and truly hammered someone, back on January 11th versus Rutgers at home, that's not quite enough for my taste.
To be fair the schedule has a lot to do with that. The Bearcats played 12 conference games in 6 weeks, no one else played that many within the AAC. Even now there are only four other teams in the conference who have played that many contests; SMU, Rutgers and South Florida. The Bearcats will have just six games in the final four weeks, which should give the Bearcats ample time to rest, get refocused and come out firing for every game left on the schedule.
Focus is the key from this point out, because the Bearcats aren't playing just for themselves anymore. That number next to their name brings added scrutiny and attention. They are trying to win the first conference title in a decade, and secure a high seed in the NCAA tournament in the process. People across the country are paying attention to the Bearcats for the first time in a while. Starting today UC needs to give them something to talk about.