Cincinnati-Rhode Island Preview

Things get serious for both No. 21 Rhode Island and No. 24 Cincinnati this weekend.

The ranked teams, both undefeated through their early tune-ups, square off Saturday at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

The winner likely will draw a Sunday matchup with No. 1 Duke, which opens Saturday against Penn State — the only unranked team of the four. The losers also meet Sunday.

Rhode Island improved to 3-0 on Wednesday night, fighting off local rival Brown 79-72 in a true rivalry-type battle.

“Playing Brown before we go to Mohegan was a great challenge for us,” coach Dan Hurley said. “I have great respect for (coach) Mike Martin and his program. This was the first time we were challenged. It was the first time we were in a tight game where we had to make some plays.

“We're happy to survive the game. It'll be good to get two days off before the next one.”

Cincinnati (2-0) was ranked in the 26th spot in the first hoop poll but crawled up to No. 24 this week.

“The rankings don't really mean nothing to us,” coach Mick Cronin said. “We try to get past that. We are thankful that we are ranked, but we try not to look at that little number. Cincinnati basketball is Cincinnati basketball, ranked or not. We've just got to come ready to play.”

The Bearcats routed Brown 84-55, then earned a 74-51 victory over Albany on Monday in the second of their four tournament games. The 'Cats used a 21-4 run in the second half to put away the Great Danes.

“Tonight was a great game for us,” Cronin said, “especially with what we've got coming this weekend. We needed some resistance, some physicality, and Albany gave it to us. They really dig in on the defensive end. They're extremely physical legally in the low post with their body. It took us until the second half to adjust to that. We didn't play well in the first half, and that's because Albany made us look bad.”

Which is what Brown did to Rhode Island. But that common-opponent angle really doesn't work when you compare Brown playing on the road at Cincinnati and then hooking up in a local rivalry.

“We did not want to open with them, and tonight was why,” Hurley said. “Can this can be a real positive for us? Yes, but some guys have to accept that some guys played a little bit out of character for us tonight.”

The Rams easily disposed of Dartmouth and Marist, the latter as part of the tournament, before the difficult test against the Bears.

After the Brown game, Hurley, clearly not pleased, left all of his players in the locker room instead of bringing two with him when he met the media. He called the defensive play of his guards “pathetic.”

“We shot damn near 60 percent from the field (57.7 percent) and we just got outhustled,” said Hurley, whose team was outrebounded and yielded 16 offensive boards. “I think that's why I've got so much respect and admiration for Mike, and they're doing it with young players, too.”