Eight games and eight wins in to the college basketball season, the Cincinnati Bearcats have plenty to smile about.
Senior guard Cashmere Wright and junior backcourt mate Sean Kilpatrick each scored their 1,000th career point last Saturday vs. Alabama.
Article continues below ...
No. 12 nationally in last week’s coaches poll, the Bearcats are 8-0 to start the year for the second time in three seasons, and a win Saturday vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore will make the 2012-13 edition just the 10th team in school history to start the season 10-0. The six wins in November set a new school best.
There are still 17 Div. I teams unbeaten nationally. Syracuse and Cincinnati are the last unblemished Big East teams, while Atlantic-10 teams Charlotte and Temple are still unbeaten. Three Big Ten teams enter the weekend undefeated: No 1. Indiana, No. 3 Michigan and No. 14 Illinois, which won the Maui Inivtational and is off to a hotter start than most expected under first-year coach John Groce, who guided Ohio University to the Sweet 16 last season.
TOUGH SLEDDING: Kent State is off to 5-4 start, and those four losses are to teams with a combined 23-7 record. Next up for the Golden Flashes is another tough task, a Sunday road game at 6-2 Xavier that will be broadcast live on FOX Sports Ohio at 4 p.m.
Just how thin is the line between good and bad — and really good/bad — in college basketball? Kent State is 2-1 in overtime games. It won at Nebraska but lost in overtime at home to Valparaiso, which lost at Nebraska. The Flashes’ season-opening upset of Drexel and the play of high-flying senior Chris Evans should serve notice to Xavier and future opponents that Kent State isn’t to be taken lightly.
Kent State and Xavier last played in 2009, with the host Musketeers bringing home a 77-61 victory. With final semester exams ahead next week, Sunday’s Kent State visit will be Xavier’s last game before the much-discussed Dec. 19 game with Cincinnati.
ROUNDING INTO SHAPE: After a 1-2 start with both losses coming when shorthanded and in overtime, Akron has won three straight and is looking more like the team expected to compete with Ohio for the MAC title.
Forwards Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell served three game suspensions for a clerical error, nothing they did, and the Zips’ failure to finish a big run in the final minutes of regulation in Puerto Rico cost them against a very talented Oklahoma State team, which went on to win the Puerto Rico invitational.
The Zips apparently like overtime — and they like having everybody available. They beat NCAA Tournament contender and Sun Belt favorite Middle Tennessee State in overtime at home last weekend.
“We’re playing better,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “We had a lot to overcome early. Quincy Diggs (expelled from school) is a big loss, and Harney and Treadwell had to serve the suspension. (Poing guard) Alex Abreu was not in good physical shape and had the ankle injury.
“This schedule helped him get healthier. Getting Harney and Treadwell back is obviously a huge deal. When we’re whole, we can be pretty good. To me, the key is Alex and Zeke (Marshall) playing their best, then the other guys follow and fill in.”
Next up is maybe their biggest test yet, a Sunday game at No. 13 Creighton in what’s a BracketBuster return game from two seasons ago — and a golden opportunity for the Zips to beef up their resume.
“They score like one of the best teams in the country,” Dambrot said. “They’re big and strong. They remind me of the Gonzaga team we played in the NCAA Tournament a few years back. They have an All-American in Doug McDermott and a bunch of guys around him who can score.
“We look at it as a great opportunity. There will be a great crowd, and us winning this game would be an upset. But this is why you play. This is what we want.”
STACKING THEM UP: Creighton is No. 2 in various national rankings of mid-major teams, the once-beaten Blue Jays coming in behind unbeaten Gonzaga. Ohio, Middle Tennesse and Akron also appear on those lists.
Many coaches would say they pay no attention to such rankings, especially at this point of the season. Dambrot has no problem admitting he does.
“I’m human,” Dambrot said. “Maybe my players don’t believe that, but I am. The ranking is something we can use for recruiting purposes. It’s not going to mean anything to what happens on the floor, but mid-majors are fighting for attention. It’s not a bad thing.
“I follow what other teams in the league are doing, what other teams we might play or have played are doing. (Wednesday) night I watched Ohio at Memphis and listened to Kent State at Bucknell. We eat, sleep, breathe basketball. I’m not going to pretend to not be aware of what’s going on.
“We’re going to Creighton to play in an environment our kids aren’t used to. It’s good for us, and it’s a good opportunity. Ohio and Kent have played good teams on the road, too. You like these games because they can help down the road, and it would be silly to say I’m not thinking about down the road or keeping an eye on what other teams are doing.”