The College Basketball Notebook

January 6, 2011 6:57 AM

Can Cincinnati Step Up?

Gates.jpgThe battle of the Queen City takes place tonight, as Cincinnati hosts Xavier (7 ET, ESPN2). The Bearcats are flying, off to a 14-0 start as they prepare to meet the Musketeer from the Atlantic 10. Cincinnati has won its first two Big East games, and while they haven't been seriously tested yet, there are some positive signs regarding this program's depth. In a 70-53 win over Seton Hall, Cincy's backcourt was kept quiet, but Ibrahima Thomas did a solid job down low with 12 points and 9 rebounds, while Sean Kilpatrick came off the bench to knock down 14. Against DePaul it was the reverse--the inside game was quiet, but small forward Yancy Gates hit for 15, guard Dion Dixon scored 16 and two different players came off the bench, as Larry Davis and Darnell Wilks combined for 31.

While the depth will serve them well in the long Big East grind, it is a cause for concern that it was needed against two non-descript opponents. Cincinnati is a talented team--Cashmere Wright and Dixon make up a quality backcourt. Gates must become more consistent, as he can be one of the top players in the conference. Thomas can be a threat down low, not only scoring and rebounding, but disrupting an offense. If you get all these pieces working in rhythm, then add bench contributions from Kilpatrick, Davis and Wilks, and you have the elements for a team that can win a Big East championship. That's a lofty goal, and after tonight we'll find out quickly if Cincinnati can deliver. The next five games include road trips to Villanova, Syracuse, Notre Dame and surprising St. John's. Cincinnati not only has the talent, but they've done a good job in early league games of taking care of the basketball. The time has come to put it all together, and while tonight's game isn't a Big East matchup, it is a big rivalry one that offers a good chance for the Bearcats to show the country what they have.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball.  and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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