With the 80-pound gorilla off their back after Saturday's enormous win over Connecticut, perhaps the Bearcats will play with a little more confidence tonight. Perhaps they'll play looser. Perhaps they'll shock the world. Perhaps they'll get destroyed by 30. Either way, it really won't matter as far as their at-large chances for the NCAA tournament. And that's why Saturday's win was so big.
As always, you just never know what a big win does to the psyche of a team. Who knows what they'll feel like tonight. But, if you think for one second Mick Cronin's pre-game speech includes "we don't have to win tonight" or "we're in the dance already so this game doesn't really matter", then you're one of those fools who still follows West Virginia or Ole Miss basketball longing for the old days.
Make no mistake, this is a big game. It's big for Louisville. It's big for UC. Louisville is one game behind Georgetown for first place in the conference and a loss would all but seal the top seed for the Hoyas. UC obviously could not only better its conference tournament seed but the NCAA seed as well. But first things first.
Aside from not having Justin Jackson for tonight, it's going to be a tall order anyway. But, outside of having dead legs in the Big East Championship last March, this is a team UC typically plays well against. Obviously Mick knows what Rick is going to do. But, Rick also knows what Mick is going to do. It just comes down to taking care of the basketball. Louisville is going to press and up the tempo which is usually something UC likes. Oh, and UC might want to make a few more shots than they usually make to have a chance to stick around and steal one.
The key will be keeping Peyton Siva out of the lane and preventing him from dishing to Chane Behanan and Giorgui Dieng for dunks. It's a given UC's big men will be in foul trouble. They start in foul trouble so they have to be extra cautious tonight. Keeping Siva and Russ Smith outside of the lane and forcing them to chuck shots (something they love to do) will increase UC's chances.
The last time I personally looked at a game on the schedule (and on paper) and said "no chance" was the Syracuse game. You remember, the game the Bearcats held a 5-point lead under 5 minutes in the game? The game where Cashmere Wright returned from the knee injury suffered in the DePaul game and no one knew what, if anything, he'd be able to do for the team. I also said "no chance" in the Syracuse game in the Big East tourney last March when the Bearcats bombed the Orange to death and held on for the upset win.
Tonight's game is similar to that. UC coming off a big win. No one expects them to win. So play loose and bombs away. So, while I point to this one and say "no chance", nothing should ever shock me when it comes to Big East basketball. Tip it up. See what happens. Go Bearcats!!