Saturday, February 6, 1999

DePaul is No. 1 on Bearcats' minds

Seed, ranking will benefit from win

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ROSEMONT, Ill. — Alvin Mitchell has been No.1 before. Melvin Levett has been No.1 before. Bob Huggins has been No.1 before, and remembers it well. None is concerned about returning to that status in the immediate future.

        “It doesn't make any difference to me,” Huggins said.

        Good thing, because it's not about to happen.

• When: 3 p.m. today
• Where: Rosemont Horizon
• Records: Cincinnati 21-1, 8-1 CUSA; DePaul 11-9, 5-5 CUSA
• TV: Channel 9
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
• 14: Points guard Melvin Levett needs to become 37th 1,000 point scorer at UC.
• 16: Consecutive wins by UC over DePaul
• 9-1: UC's road record this season.
.364: Combined shooting percentage for Williams, Simmons and Richardson in first UC-DePaul meeting.
        The Cincinnati Bearcats last were No.1 at the start of the 1996-97 season, but lost that ranking upon dropping their second game of the season, to Xavier.

        The argument of whether UC deserved to stand atop college basketball's wire-service polls again became moot the moment the polls were released following UC's Great Alaska Shootout championship and the Bearcats still were ranked behind Duke, the team they had beaten to win that title. That was more than two months ago.

        Questions about the polls' logic had merit, but there was nothing UC more could do during its regular season to pass the Blue Devils. It would only be a matter of what Duke did, and Duke since has been flawless.

        “People don't really believe, but we believe. The guys that were on that floor believe,” said UC senior guard Melvin Levett. “That's all that really matters. If they don't want to rank us ahead of Duke ... We know as a team what we're capable of doing.”

        No.3 UC (21-1, 8-1) thus did not travel here for today's 3p.m. Conference USA game against DePaul (11-9, 5-5) at the Rosemont Horizon concerned about ascending to the throne most likely vacated when top-ranked Connecticut absorbed its first loss Monday against Syracuse. Duke will advance from No.2 to No.1 barring a loss today.

        “I think Duke's probably playing better than anyone in the nation, even though we beat them,” said Mitchell, who enjoyed a top ranking in the NJCAA when playing for Indian Hills Community College last season.

        “We'd probably rather be No.2. Then we'd still have something to chase. Being No.2 is just a tad bit less pressure than being No.1.”

        Of far greater importance than a No. 1 poll ranking is the pursuit of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the Bearcats could make substantial progress in that direction this afternoon.

        They need every win they can manage, and DePaul certainly is talented enough to put together a serious challenge. The Blue Demons lost their past two home games, including Wednesday against UNC Charlotte, but 6-foot-6 Quentin Richardson leads the nation's freshmen in scoring (19.4) and rebounding (10.7) and 6-9 freshman Lance Williams is C-USA's reigning player of the week.

        At the same time as Cincinnati watches the Bearcats trying to win that game, ABC will show the majority of the nation Connecticut's game at Stanford. The Huskies are expected to drop a second straight game, given that they must go cross-country to play. It is likely, though, they will get back center Jake Voskuhl and wing Richard Hamilton, who missed the Syracuse loss.

        If UConn loses to Stanford, it most likely will fall behind Duke in the race for the top seed in the tournament's East Region. Placing Duke in the East and allowing the Blue Devils to play their first-round games at Charlotte would create an opening for the Bearcats to be seeded No.1 in the South and start in Indianapolis.

        Huggins would love for UC's fans to be only a 90-minute drive from watching the Bearcats in the NCAAs.

        “We're going to start talking about seeding,” said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, “but when you lose your best rebounder and your best scorer, you start to think about survival, getting some wins.”

        If they hadn't already gotten the message with their defeat at UNC Charlotte last month, the Bearcats were reminded again Thursday how challenging playing on the road can be. Two top 10 teams, Kentucky and Arizona, dropped games that night.

        UC is 5-1 in road games, but three of those were not decided until the final possession. Even at No.3 on the way to No.2, the Bearcats figure to be the sort of target that will motivate the Blue Demons toward a prime performance.

        “When you're one, two or three, I don't think it makes any difference as to how people are going to prepare, and I don't think our guys would feel any added pressure,” Huggins said.

        “We were up 19 against Duke. If we'd convincingly beat them, that'd be something else, but we won on a last-second shot. Dick Vitale said that it showed how good we were that after Duke came back and tied it, we didn't fold. He's a bad historian. We don't fold.”

All 1998-99 basketball stories


Xavier women nearly repeat upset
XU visits La Salle's new home
Gabe's parents press on through grief
Coles returns to Western with gifts
UK catching 'Bama down
Athletes make case to Miami trustees
Louisville eligible for tournament
Notre Dame just says no to Big Ten
Ohio boys basketball scores
Indiana boys basketball scores
Indiana girls basketball scores
Ky. boys basketball scores
Ky. girls basketball scores
Sarjeant makes surprise visit here
Bengals wait to talk to Boomer