CINCINNATI - All it takes to discover No. 16 Cincinnati’s strength is a quick glance at the minutes column.
Ten players got in for at least 15 minutes in their latest win, 89-54 over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday. None was on the floor for more than 26 minutes.
These Bearcats are indeed the sum of their parts, and they add up to one of the nation’s most formidable defensive teams.
They press, they trap, they play with tenacity until they tire out. Then, coach Bob Huggins puts in five fresh players to keep it going.
“This may be the best physical pressing team in college basketball right now,” Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis said.
With a soft opening schedule, the Bearcats (6-0) have managed to stay out of the spotlight while developing a swagger as deep as their bench. They’re reminiscent of Huggins’ teams in the 1990s, which won league championships and went deep into the NCAA tournament with their trapping defense.
“I’m pretty sure teams around the country are watching this,” said Tony Bobbitt, who made all six of his shots for a team-high 15 points.
Huggins scrapped his favored pressing style of defense for straight-up man-to-man in the last few years because it better suited his players’ skills. He could rely on stars such as Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin and Steve Logan to carry them through.
This group is different. There’s not one star, but a whole bench full of players good enough to play significant roles. Huggins has decided to use that depth to his advantage by pressing.
“Our strength is in our numbers again, finally,” Huggins said.
And they’ve just gotten one more reserve option.
Six-foot-7 forward James White made his Bearcats debut on Saturday, scoring eight points. White had to sit out a season after transferring from Florida, where he averaged 6.1 points in 29 games as a freshman.
He fought back tears during pregame introductions, then nervously went 2-of-7 from the field in 19 minutes.
“It was very emotional for me,” White said. “I saw my family in the stands. Once things got back to normal, it was pretty easy. For my first time playing in a year and a half, I thought I did pretty good.”
His teammates were delighted to have another front-line threat in an already deep lineup.
“I feel real good about this team,” said Eric Hicks, who had 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The thing they feel best about is their press, which forced Middle Tennessee State (4-3) into a season-high 25 turnovers. The Blue Raiders have been pretty good at holding onto the ball, but repeatedly threw it away against the unrelenting pressure.
“They just kind of knocked us down, took the ball away from us and scored on the other end,” Davis said.
Just like they did back in their glory days.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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