As the immortal Salt N' Pepa so nearly sang
Lets start with the basics. The Cincinnati Bearcats are a lock for the NCAA tournament. They were heading into the Georgetown game and picking up another win over a ranked opponent to conclude the Big East regular season did little to dispel the notion. The Bearcats are approaching, or have already gained, mortal lock status and it is looking neigh on impossible for this team to play its way out of the tournament. UC still is sans a bad loss on the season, and given the bye in the Big East that is unlikely to change. UC could potentially face a USF Bulls squad, but the odds on that are very long. Villanova, even a struggling and sliding Villanova is 10 points better than a USF squad who's only Big East wins have been against DePaul, twice and Providence. So it will more than likely be the Wildcats who stand against UC on Wednesday in Madison Square Garden. The question is what is at stake for UC in this game?
The answer is a familiar one, but not "I went to high school with you" familiar. More "I think we might be third cousins or something" familiar. What the Bearcats are playing for in NYC is tourney seeding. Of course this is all based on the premise that UC doesn't really have a chance to win the Big East Tournament. That should not be a hard thing to embrace. This year winning the Big East tourney is probably going to be harder than it will be to win the National Championship. The degree of difficulty is insane on that front. More than likely it will require UC to knock off four ranked opponents in four successive nights. I love this team and their toughness and most importantly their defense, but that just isn't happening. These Bearcats don't have the minute to minute consistency to pull that off. So what UC is trying to accomplish in New York is to play their way into a more favorable seed in the NCAA tournament, and hopefully easier passage to the second round.
As it sits right now the consensus among the Bracketors is to have the Bearcats on the 7 line. That means a good old fashioned 7-10 match-up. Being a 7 seed is not a bad deal at all, but with the goal of advancing as far as possible its not ideal. The 7-10 and 8-9 match ups are usually the most volatile pairings on the first two days of tourney play. So if this team can manage to play their way up to a 6 or a 5 line the odds of making a run improve quite a bit. But lets keep things in perspective right now. Lets assume that UC stays on the 7 line come Selection Sunday and take a look at the neighbors.
|Kansas State||22-9||Big 12||16|
and now the potential opposition
|Michigan State||17-13||Big 10(11,12)||45|
Those potential opponents aren't a murders row, not by a long shot. But none of those matchups are all that appealing to me. Marquette is a rematch, Michigan State is a byword for Tournament consistency and Georgia and Florida State are both very talented teams that can be devastating when things click for them, and the potential for those moments are always there. I don't fear any of those four teams, I think UC can beat them all. But the Bearcats can play their way into a better match up. That is what the Big East tournament is about for these Bearcats.
So UC is firmly on the 7 line now. An ideal, and I think achievable position for them to shot for is a 5 seed. I wouldn't object to a 6 line but five would enable me to actually think about the potential for a sweet sixteen birth. What will it take to make that happen? Tough to tell. There are a ton of variables involved.
I think a win on Wednesday would be enough to bump UC up to the six line. Beating Nova would put UC at .500 or just below against RPI top 50 teams, depending on how other match ups shake out obviously. That coupled with a 12 win Big East campaign would almost certainly give UC one of the 24 best resumes; even with the shitty performance of the vast majority of the Bearcats non conference foils. If that comes to pass the potential opposition, as it currently stands, would be.
|St. Mary's||23-7||West Coast||52|
That seems much more like it to me. I would gladly take a match up with any of these four teams compared to the four teams currently hovering on the 10 line. A win in the quarters, as unlikely as that seems sitting here at the moment would almost certainly put UC on the five line, possibly even a four, but I think that might be a bit of a stretch right now. If UC could find their way to a five line the opposition would look like this.
While there are some familiar names in this group, Butler, Memphis and obviously Gonzaga have reputations as Giant Killers earned in previous march performances. But I have seen all there of them play multiple times and haven't come away particularly impressed with any of them. None of them are all that consistent and there is a reason why they are sitting on the 12 line, traditionally the homes of the last few at large selections in any field of 64, or I guess I should say 68 now.
This is what UC is playing for in the Big East tournament, seeding in the big dance, and a win in the Garden will go a long way to setting this team up with a nice draw for a potential run in the tournament.