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Cincy proves to be dangeous foe

Cashmere Wright #1 of the Cincinnati Bearcats brings

Cashmere Wright #1 of the Cincinnati Bearcats brings the ball up court against Shaun Noriega #22 of the South Florida Bulls during the second round of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden. (March 9, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

They’re long, strong, quick and athletic.

The “they” we are referring to is the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincy (25-7) has gone largely unnoticed this season, despite a 15-0 start.

No one should overlook the Bearcats, who handled Cinderella-wannabe South Florida, 87-61, in a Big East second-round game on Wednesday. Cincinnati has the size with Anthony McClain (7-0, 255), Ibrahima Thomas (6-11, 230) and Yancy Gates (6-9, 260) and the speed on the perimeter with Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright.

But please, don't ask if the Bearcats are for real. They'll tell you that no one respects them. And they're right. Cincinnati, a Big East team, has 25 wins but isn't in any of the national polls.

"Yeah, that's all we talk about," said Gates. "We've been feeling like that for a long time. But we'll take it. That drives us and that's what's keeping us going now."  

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin had no problems voicing his displeasure with the lack of respect.

"How we're not in the [top] 25 is comical," he said. "Teams that we have beaten twice are ahead of us. Teams that we beat [by] double figures that have more losses than us are ahead of us."

Critics point to their soft non-conference schedule and shaky Big East record (11-7).

So finishing four games above .500 in the Big East is a bad thing? It is if you fancy your team as a Final Four contender. Cincinnati’s toughest non-conference game was a home contest against rival Xavier, who the Bearcats trounced, 66-46.

Cincinnati didn't play any ranked opponents in non-conference. But that doesn't mean this is a squad to take lightly. The rest of the Big East knows how good the Bearcats can be.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun raved about Cincinnati, so did South Florida coach Stan Heath after his team’s upset of Villanova on Tuesday.

Gates had 25 points and Dixon added 21 points to lead Cincinnati.

Here’s a tip for you NCAA bracket junkies: Keep any eye on Cincinnati. This is a team that can play a physical or a finesse brand of basketball.

Cincinnati gets second-seeded Notre Dame on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

New York Sports