CINCINNATI — It’s been a long time since the Bearcats have reached such heights.
Cincinnati had another breakthrough on Monday in its impressive start, moving into the top 10 of the Associated Press college basketball poll. The Bearcats came in at No. 7, their highest ranking in 10 years.
They’ve won 14 in a row since a lopsided defeat to crosstown rival Xavier. Their 21-2 mark represents their best start in 12 years. And they’re in control of the American Athletic Conference with a 10-0 mark, in line to win its first regular season title.
“We’re not done yet,” senior forward Justin Jackson said, after a 50-49 win over South Florida on Sunday put them in position for their big jump from No. 13 in the poll. “We want to be on the big stage come March. That’s our focus: When we come to March to have a good seed and do what we need to do.”
They’ve got one more month to make their case for a high seed that could help them advance deep into the NCAA tournament.
The challenge is to keep the momentum going with a short-handed roster that might be starting to wear down.
The Bearcats haven’t been ranked so high since the 2003-04 season under coach Bob Huggins. They made it to No. 6 before losing to Louisville. The Bearcats won the Conference USA tournament that season and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Huggins was forced out before the 2005-06 season in a power struggle with the school president, leaving the program in disarray. The Bearcats were ranked No. 25 for one week that season under interim coach Andy Kennedy.
Mick Cronin returned to his hometown to start rebuilding the program the following season. The Bearcats made it back to the Top 25 during the 2009-10 season. They went 26-11 in 2011-12 and reached the Sweet 16 before losing to Ohio State. They’ve reached the tournament each of the last three seasons, making it to the round of 16 only one time.