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“I’m hot,” Gates said. “That’s something I’ve been working on after practice. It’s starting to pay off.”

The Bearcats also have started winning back fans. Their last two home games were played before near-capacity crowds that got very loud. Students and fans had largely given up on the program after coach Bob Huggins left _ Cincinnati has had only two capacity crowds in the last two years.

“It matters,” Cronin said. “I was thanking them, trying to get them to come back next year, especially our students.”

Cincinnati hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2005, their last season under Huggins. The Bearcats had a losing Big East record every season until this one. They’ve got a No. 7 seed and a first-round bye before facing either Villanova or South Florida on Tuesday.

Cronin has repeatedly complained about the lack of national attention during the Bearcats’ strong finish. He sees the Big East tournament as a chance to change it.

“There’s certain teams in our league that get more media coverage and hype than other teams,” he said. “We’re gaining respect with the season we’ve had this year. That’s another reason for us to go up there and play with a chip on our shoulder.”