Not much was expected from the Cincinnati Bearcats in their first season in the American Athletic Conference.
Coach Mick Cronin’s team received only one vote in a preseason poll and was picked to finish fourth in the conference.
However, a 70-66 victory over Rutgers on Saturday gave No.15 Cincinnati (25-5, 15-3 in AAC) a share of the regular season conference title with Louisville and represented Cronin’s best season at the school.
Cincinnati won a coin flip later in the day and was awarded the No. 1 seed in the AAC tournament with Louisville the two seed.
“In fairness to voters, I don’t know if I would have ranked us either, Cronin said. “For certain programs you get ranked no matter what.”
“But I don’t know if our respect was there yet. Maybe next year we’ll be ranked because we’re Cincinnati and its expected.”
The Bearcats entered the final regular season conference game in a tie with Louisville. The Bearcats and the Cardinals were in the Big East conference last year.
Senior shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati in scoring for the 17th straight game with 24 points and forward Justin Jackson added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Cronin’s team heads into the AAC conference tournament in Memphis next week battle tested after playing their second game in 36 hours.
The Bearcats who didn’t go through their usual walk through and shoot-around before the Rutgers game to conserve energy, defeated Memphis, 97-84, on Thursday.
Cronin received 25 points from his reserves and used nine players, all of whom scored.
The trio of Kevin Johnson, Jermaine Lawrence, and Jermaine Sanders accounted for 18 points off Cincinnati’s bench.
The Bearcats couldn’t put away scrappy Rutgers until late in the game. The Scarlet Knights, who will move to the Big Ten next season, had a 64-63 lead with three minutes to go, but Justin Jackson’s lay-up with 1:45 to play and Kilpatrick’s three-point play with 1:08 to go provided the Bearcats with a 68-64 edge.
Kilpatrick scored the Bearcats’ five final points of the game, including a lay-up for the final score with 17 seconds to play.
Next up for the Bearcats, the AAC tournament, Thursday night from Memphis at 7pm on ESPNU. They will play the winner of the UCF/Temple game.