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Much expected from No. 12 Cincinnati heading into opener

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin typically doesn't discuss rankings and recognition with his players, especially with an experienced squad like this year's.

But he understands that his players have seen and read the accolades pouring in throughout the preseason. The Bearcats are picked by many pundits to win the American Athletic Conference championship and possibly make a Final Four run. Cronin is keeping his team focused on the here and now.

"We're usually on the underrated side, so I won't talk about the overrated side," Cronin said.

"I know they talk about it behind the scenes. I really work hard on trying to keep their focus on getting better each day. I haven't sat them down and said, 'Don't read the newspaper and don't read the rankings.' I didn't do that when we weren't ranked."

The journey begins for the Bearcats on Friday when No. 12 Cincinnati hosts Savannah State at BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. The game is considered part of the Cayman Islands Classic. Both teams will travel to the island later this month but compete in separate brackets.

Cincinnati brings back its top three scorers and six other lettermen from last year's team that won 30 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year.

The Bearcats, led by senior forwards Gary Clark and Kyle Washington, junior swingman Jacob Evans, top transfer guard Cane Broome and sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland, enter the season with their highest Associated Press poll ranking since 1999. They are a dark-horse Final Four pick in many publications.

Upset-minded Savannah State has experience as well, coming off a 13-16 season. The Tigers led the nation in 3-point attempts and makes.

Cronin said Cincinnati won't try to slow things down against Savannah State, making for a fast-paced season opener on Friday.

"If I was a fan of basketball, I'd come to the (game) on Friday," Cronin said. "Our style's not to slow down. They're going to press us."

The Tigers, coached by former Georgetown player Horace Broadnax, will be tested in the nonconference portion of their schedule with games against Michigan State, Baylor, Texas A&M and Wichita State, who is picked by some to finish ahead of Cincinnati in the AAC.

But the Bearcats need to be concerned only with themselves in this one. Cronin liked what he saw in two exhibitions, won by a combined 190-129 score over Bellarmine and Embry-Riddle.

"What we tried to accomplish in the offseason was playing aggressive, full-court defense and trying to put pressure on the opponent with our defense," Cronin said. "I liked the pace we played with in our two (exhibition) games. You can impose your will coming at teams."

It's the second meeting between the two schools. The Bearcats defeated the Tigers 54-41 on November 24, 2010.

Cincinnati is playing its home games at Northern Kentucky throughout the 2017-18 season during an $87 million renovation of Fifth Third Arena, which is expected to be completed by next season.

Updated November 8, 2017

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