No. 10 Cincinnati goes for share of AAC (Feb 28, 2018)
A share of the American Athletic Conference regular season championship is on the line Thursday night when No. 10 Cincinnati travels to New Orleans for a matchup with Tulane.
It would be Cincinnati's first conference title since 2014, when the Bearcats shared the inaugural AAC crown with Louisville. But while it would be nice to add a new banner when the Fifth/Third Center reopens next season, the Bearcats have bigger things in mind.
"Unfortunately, any regular season conference championship in college basketball doesn't mean what it did when I was growing up," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We all know, in our game, all people really care about is March Madness. But I will tell you it's hard to do.
"I know (senior forwards) Gary (Clark) and Kyle (Washington) care about it, so it'd be great for us. Obviously there's a lot more basketball to be played. Whether we win Thursday and clinch a share, you're still trying to point toward March and get better. But it's a great accomplishment."
Washington scored only eight points in Cincinnati's last outing, an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday but Clark scored 15 of his 17 in the second half to help Cincinnati avoid an upset.
"We're trying to prepare the guys to play in a one-and-out tournament, where it's over. One game, it's over,'' Cronin said. "It can't be OK to just let guys, we check you into the game and the first thing you do is lose your man and give up a three. You've got to be fearful that when you come back to the bench, your teammates are gonna be on you. Not the coach. To me, that's what separates the great teams, if you look around pro sports."
Even with a victory, the Bearcats will need some help if they hope to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AAC Tournament next week. Beating Tulane would put Cincinnati at 15-2 in league play but Wichita State would have the same record if it gets past Central Florida on Thursday night.
The Bearcats visit Wichita State in the regular season finale Sunday.
Cincinnati hasn't won an outright conference championship since 2004, when it won the Conference USA crown.
Before the Bearcats can think about what's next, they'll need to get past Tulane, which comes in 14-14 under former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr.
The Green Wave have shown improvement after going 3-15 in the league last season and has four players averaging at least 30 minutes per game while ranking fourth in the league with 74.7 points per game.
"They're a really good offensive team," Cronin said. "Even when they don't win, they're good on offense. They've struggled defensively. Maybe a little bit of a lack of a depth. When you're playing tired guys, it's hard to be good defensively."