BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Of the 315 Division I basketball teams that began the season last month, only 12 remain undefeated. And the only thing more certain than all of them being beaten by the end of the season is one of them being beaten by the end of the evening.
Cincinnati vs. Minnesota leaves no other option.
"I think it elevates our game, playing an unbeaten team," said UC freshman guard Steve Logan. "We know how they feel, so we know how they'll prepare for the game."
No. 4 UC (7-0) enters tonight's 9:30 game as the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to visit Williams Arena in more than 30 years. The No. 17 Gophers (6-0) have not faced a ranked team, but claimed victories over major-conference opponents such as Seton Hall and Oregon and have steadily improved.
UC at MINNESOTA
When: 9:30 tonight |
Where: Williams Arena
Records: UC 7-0; Minnesota 6-0
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
BY THE NUMBERS
2-0: UC's record against ranked opponents this season.
27-32: UC's record against ranked opponents under coach Bob Huggins.
79: Current winning streak for UC forward Pete Mickeal, who helped win 72 in a row at Indian Hills C.C. in Iowa.
It seems a reasonable challenge for the Bearcats given the amount of criticism they've taken regarding their recent schedule. They played their past three games against low-major opponents at the Shoemaker Center -- which resulted in them being passed by Kentucky in the Associated Press poll -- but this will be their second road game against a ranked team.
"Being there for 10 years, you get used to just about everything," Huggins said. "People don't care to understand. Most of the better matchups you've seen have been in tournaments; only a few of those were on the regular schedule."
The Bearcats had their tournament success in winning the Great Alaska Shootout over then-No. 1 Duke and won a road game at Rhode Island, but this atmosphere should be the most difficult yet. Williams holds 14,625, and those seats will be filled.
"They have three great players," Huggins said. He is taken with 6-7 senior forward Quincy Lewis and 6-2 senior guard Kevin Clark, who average 44.2 points combined. Clark is one of the fastest players in the nation on the dribble and is hitting .457 from three-point range. Lewis is a versatile scorer with low-post skills and a .385 long-distance percentage.
Huggins believes they are "as good as any combination we've faced -- and hopefully will face." He has not forgotten UC already met and defeated Duke and All-Americans Elton Brand and Trajan Langdon.
Huggins also admires 7-1 freshman center Joel Przybilla, who has 28 blocks, 10 in the Fresno State win. "We knew Joel was going to be an impact player on the defensive end for us right away," said Minnesota coach Clem Haskins. "He is so good at timing when to jump and jumping in control so he doesn't foul."
What the Gophers do not have, really, is a point guard. They start 6-5 Kevin Nathaniel and sub with 6-3 Terrance Simmons. Nathaniel is playing efficiently (20 assists, seven turnovers) but has not yet encountered a high-pressure defense, which seems essential for UC to assert control of this game.
Senior guard Michael Horton said the Bearcats did not make all the progress they hoped in their three easy wins. In particular, their offensive execution slipped as fewer and
fewer players bothered to set screens.
One positive that came from UC's three wins by a combined 88 points was the success of its zone press in Monday's win against Nicholls State.
"We can't let them get into their offense," Horton said. "It's best to take them out of what they're comfortable doing, make them work for things."
The game will be televised by ESPN, which, in fact, had a lot to do with setting up the game for a telecast last season from the Shoe. TV has a lot to say about who plays where in college basketball and is responsible for UC's visit Saturday night to UNLV.
It seems the networks underestimated the potential of this UC team when they chose not to push matches between the Bearcats and any of the nation's apparent elite: Connecticut, Maryland, Kentucky, Stanford. But Huggins is not sure.
"I don't know how good we are yet," he said. "We'll have a better idea after this week."
1998 basketball stories