Opportunity has to be the theme for the Bearcats (19-8, 9-5 Big East) when they take on 17th ranked Louisville (21-6, 9-5 Big East) on Thursday at Fifth Third Bank Arena. The Cats only have four games left in the regular season and would like nothing more than to finish strong. They have to be considered a bubble team, at the moment, and a win over a ranked opponent on national television is just what the doctor ordered.
The Bearcats look to break the Cards four-game road winning streak, but a win against Louisville won't come easy. The Cards have won 7 out of their last 8 games. The lone loss was a one-point defeat dealt by the Syracuse Orangemen. Syracuse happens to be ranked #2 in the country and Louisville pushed them to the wire. Cincinnati and Louisville are coming off road wins against Seton Hall and Depaul respectively.
The Cats have been very inconsistent this season, which makes it hard to predict how they will fare against the 19th ranked Cardinals. Both teams have identical Big East records and the winner will still have a realistic shot at getting a double bye in the Big East Tournament. If Cincinnati can beat Louisville and take care of the other two unranked teams on their remaining schedule, the tournament committee would have no choice but to select the Bearcats in the field of 68. The key to that formula: upsetting the Cardinals at Fifth Third Bank Arena.
Defense may help win championships, but in wins this season the Bearcats have averaged 74 points per game, while holding their opponents to just 58 points a night. In losses, the Bearcats defense allows 62ppg, but the offense is averaging only 61 points per contest in losses. The thirteen point swing could be the difference on Thursday. Cincinnati must make shots. If they do, it will spread out the Louisville defense and give the Cats a shot to pull off the upset.
Defense shouldn't be a problem for the Cats. Excluding the Marquette game, when they gave up 95 points, the defense has held opponents under 70 points the past six games. I am not saying Cincinnati will be victorious if they score 74 points, but it will definitely increase their chances.
The Cincinnati Bearcats have a great opportunity awaiting them and if they take advantage of it, they will be looking at a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.
If you aren't attending the sold out game at Fifth Third Arena on Thursday, it will air on ESPN. The game starts at 9pm.