No. 14 Cincinnati wary of USF, and that's no bull
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Cincinnati's greatest concern Saturday is not South Florida, which is winless in the American Athletic Conference.
The No. 14 Bearcats (14-2, 3-0 AAC) are mindful of themselves, particularly becoming complacent against the outmatched Bulls (7-10, 0-4).
Cincinnati is a heavy favorite to win its eighth straight game. Las Vegas oddsmakers made the Bearcats an early 22-point favorite Friday night.
"I know everybody else is concerned with who's favored and the records, but my job is to keep my guys focused on our opponent and what they do well," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "Their record is completely irrelevant. We don't talk about it."
Cincinnati also has the incentive of remaining unbeaten in the AAC and keeping pace with Wichita State, which is 4-0 in the AAC.
"When it comes to conference play, anybody could come in and get a win at any given moment," junior guard Justin Jenifer told Cincinnati.com. "We have to play just as if they're (South Florida) No. 1 in the conference. We have something more to lose than they do. We've got to come in and do what we've got to do."
USF coach Brian Gregory, formerly the coach at Dayton and Georgia Tech, took on the task of rebuilding the program this season after the Bulls were rocked by the firing of coach Orlando Antigua last January.
Interim coach Murry Bartow, the former Alabama-Birmingham and East Tennessee State coach, faltered with a 1-16 record to end the season.
"Brian's a great coach, and he's proven it," Cronin said. "Great coaches are viewed upon in different ways. Usually it's just based on wins and championships. In the coaching world we view it on doing a great job with the talent you have, which Brian did at Dayton and he did at Georgia Tech and he's doing it this year, with the talent he has."
USF has 10 newcomers, including Fairleigh Dickinson graduate transfer Stephan Jiggetts, a guard who averages 11.1 points per game.
Penn State graduate transfer Payton Banks, a wing, leads the Bulls with 12.7 points per game but has missed three of the last four games because of an unspecified illness. Banks could return Saturday against the Bearcats, according to the Tampa Tribune.
USF struggles to score, ranking last in the AAC at 63.5 points per game. The Bulls also were No. 333 nationally entering Friday with a turnover margin at minus-3.65 per game.
USF figures to have difficulty against the Bearcats' defense. Cincinnati tops the AAC allowing only 58.6 points per game.
"I think the biggest thing, our guys understand the big picture," Gregory said of the Bulls' rebuilding phase. "They understand where we're at, why they came here, what we're trying to get done. So, they're still positive, they're still practicing hard, they're still competing hard."
Cincinnati junior guard Jacob Evans needs 14 points to reach 1,000 for his career. He would be the 52nd player in school history to reach that mark. He leads the team with 13.8 points per game.
Updated January 12, 2018