Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
After No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse, it’s still unclear exactly who the second best team in the Big East Conference is. But after Cincinnati defeated No. 12 Connecticut on the road on Wednesday night in impressive fashion, we might have an answer to that question. With their 10th victory in 11 games, the Bearcats have improved to 5-1 in the Big East with three road wins, including two over top competition in UConn and Georgetown. This team has already gone through enough adversity for an entire season and is now starting to peak after all of it. Cincinnati is identified first for its ugly brawl with Xavier on December 10, but with the way this team is now playing, it might soon be recognized instead as an excellent basketball team.
Cincinnati has been a fairly mediocre team during the Mick Cronin era. They hadn’t finished above 10th place in the Big East standings until last season’s sixth place finish, and they have won 20 games just once in the past six years. Despite rumors of their coach being on the hot seat, the program has had faith in Cronin and his hard work in recruiting and teaching is finally paying off with these talented Bearcats. Then came the fight with Xavier last month, which threatened to ruin this team’s chances yet again. Instead, the lessons learned from that day seem to have awakened this team. While nobody in the program would wish for that nasty fight to be a catalyst for success, the fact is that the Bearcats are playing at a more functional, higher level right now than they have in years. Having star caliber players in Sean Kilpatrick and Yancy Gates doesn’t hurt, but when you consider how good this team is right now after everything it’s gone through, it’s safe to say Cincinnati is one of the most intriguing teams in the country.