The SMU game was a big one, but it is behind us and it is time to look forward. My previous thought was that Cincinnati needs to get wins against SMU, UCONN, Memphis, and Temple at home, and then steal a few games from the conference elite on the road. However, things have changed. The "conference elite" aren't looking as elite as they once did. I expected some top-25 attention to be given to UCONN, SMU, Memphis, Temple, and Cincinnati, which just hasn't happened. This gives way to a small problem for the Bearcats... they don't have an opportunity for a really big win (Top-10) left on their schedule.
Don't get me wrong - There are some respectable teams that Cincinnati will play in the coming months, but there is no longer opportunity for that WOW win. In all likelihood, Cincinnati will not play another ranked team the rest of the season. That means, the Bearcats have to make their case based on quantity, and not necessarily quality, wins. There is no hail mary or big upset that can save Cincinnati's season this year. Instead, the Bearcats will have to grind out win after win to keep their tournament hopes alive.
For some reason, Joe Lunardi's most recent bracketology was nearly two months ago (November 12) before the season even started. At that time he had Cincinnati as a 10-seed. So that's something.
So what do I mean by quantity? Here is a breakdown of what I think the Bearcats need to do the remainder of the season:
- The Must Wins: These are the teams that Cincinnati needs to sweep. No excuses. East Carolina, UCF, Houston, and South Florida are all ranked worse than RPI 200. These are games you simply have to win. A bad shooting night or a little foul trouble will not be good enough excuses to lose to any of these squads. Simply put, the Bearcats need to go 7-0 here (They only play USF once).
- The Middle: This is a set of respectable teams who Cincinnati can drop a game or two against. Memphis, Tulane, and Tulsa are all having moderate success this year, but are all likely non-tournament teams at this point. This is where an excuse may be acceptable; Ellis gets into foul trouble, Cincinnati shoots 35% from the field, the opponent shoots 15-20 from three, or some other anomaly would be somewhat acceptable against these tougher teams. Regardless, a winning record against these teams is a must, so the Bearcats need to go at least 3-2 here (They only play Tulsa once).
- The Grinders: Then there is the top of the pack, which has changed as of late. I have dropped Memphis from this list and Tulsa was tempting to include, but for now Temple, SMU, UCONN, and Xavier make up this group. Cincinnati has six games left against this group (already beat SMU and obviously plays Xavier only once). If Cincinnati can split these six games that would be great, but going above .500 here would be even better. If they can go 3-3 against these teams the rest of the season, they should be in good shape come selection time.
With their current 10-3 record, my goals for the Bearcats would put them at 23-8 going into the conference tournament. Now, I know that is my original prediction for this team and that a lot of this depends on other teams, but if Cincinnati can go 23-8 and win at least their first game of the conference tournament - A tournament bid should be a pretty safe bet. To get there, the Bearcats will have to maintain their defensive dominance and continue to grow offensively.
However, these are longterm goals. Much like with saving money or career planning, it is good to know what you need to do to get where you want to be in the future, but the real work is done in the for of a day-to-day grind. The Bearcats will get back to that day-to-day work Tuesday as they continue conference play against a less-than-impressive ECU team. Cincinnati needs to not get caught in a letdown after a big SMU win or look ahead to UCONN, and win decisively.