Alabama State is merely a pit stop for the Bearcats, who begin perhaps their most important four-game stretch of the season following Monday’s game. The Hornets (0-6) have an RPI ranking of No. 320 out of 351 Division I teams, according to RealTimeRPI.com. They lost 101-97 to Savannah State on Tuesday, a team Cincinnati beat by 30 points earlier this month.
The American Athletic Conference is improved with the addition of Wichita State, but it’s a league that isn’t stockpiled with quality opponents. The Bearcats have to make hay in December to solidify their NCAA Tournament resume.
Cincinnati (6-0) should have no problem dispatching Alabama State, which has only one player averaging in double figures. Sophomore guard Reginald Gee averages 14.8 points and shoots 47 percent from 3-point range. The Hornets are averaging 65 points while their opponents scored 94 per contest through six games.
“We don’t underestimate any competition,” junior forward Kyle Washington said after the Bearcats won the Cayman title with wins over Buffalo, Richmond and Wyoming.
Following Monday night’s game, Cincinnati will face crosstown rival and 15th-ranked Xavier on the road and No. 7 Florida in Newark, N.J. After a home game versus Mississippi State, the Bearcats will play at No. 23 UCLA.
Point guard Justin Jenifer is averaging 8.5 points with 18 assists and only four turnovers. While Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, also a point guard, is averaging 10.2 points but has 16 turnovers and 15 assists.
Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin told the Cincinnati Enquirer on Friday that he was pleased with his team’s focus and defensive effort in the Cayman Islands.
“I think we got better defensively as the tournament went on,” Cronin said. “I thought our focus was tremendous. I don’t know what everybody else did, but we practiced every day to get ready for each game. Our guys didn’t complain. They understand that’s how we do things. This is business.”
The Bearcats are playing their home games on the campus of Northern Kentucky University this season while Fifth Third Arena undergoes an $87 million renovation.
Cincinnati will be looking to extend its home-court winning streak to 30 games, the second-longest active streak in the nation behind only Oregon’s 46.
Cincinnati has faced Alabama State once before, winning 65-40 on Nov. 13, 2011.
The Bearcats played without 6-foot-9 freshman forward Mamoudou Diarra in the Cayman Islands Classic when issues arose with his travel visa, preventing him from making the trip. Diarra averages just under five points and three boards as a valuable body off the bench. He’s expected to be back in action on Monday night.
Alabama State likely will have no answer for Bearcats senior forward Gary Clark, who was named Cayman Islands Classic tournament most valuable player. He averaged 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in the three games.
Clark is one of five Bearcats players who average in double figures with a team-leading 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, despite some foul trouble.
Sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland is Cincinnati’s sparkplug with 12.5 points per game while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.