The story of realignment is a tired yet necessary one, given the many changed that have altered the landscape of collegiate athletics in recent years. But with a team that's slated to leave the Big East soon the prohibitive favorite to win the Big East Championship, it was two teams who will remain in the league that stole center stage. Cincinnati will make their first-ever Big East title game appearance, taking on Louisville in another edition of a rivalry that goes all the way back to the days of the old Metro Conference. The times, they are a-changin'.
Mick Cronin's Bearcats were the lone team of the four playing who had never reached the semifinals, but they showed no stage fright in their matchup with top-seed Syracuse. Cincinnati scored the first seven points of the game and led by as many as 17 points in the first half, knocking down eight of their 13 three-pointers in the first half to take a 35-23 lead into the locker room. The shots didn't fall at the same rate in the second half for the Bearcats but they'd done just enough to hang on for the 71-68 win.
"I've got faith in my team. When our toughness rises to the level of our talent, we've got a great team," said Cronin. "We can beat anybody. We came here to win the tournament, and we've got one more tomorrow night at 9:00."
Yancy Gates and Sean Kilpatrick scored 18 points apiece to lead the way and guards Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright added 11 apiece. The perimeter shooting may not have been there in the second half but the work on the offensive glass was, as Cincinnati grabbed thirteen offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes. Dion Waiters led Syracuse with 28 points off the bench but with the starters all struggling it was an uphill battle for much of the night. The Orange can afford a couple guys having an off night due to their depth, but four of the five starters? Not going to happen against most teams.
Louisville also got out to a big lead, as they did against Marquette on Thursday night. But unlike Syracuse, Notre Dame didn't have the firepower needed to climb back from a large deficit and the Irish ended up on the short end of a 64-50 result. Notre Dame shot 2-for-17 from beyond the arc and just 35.8% from the field overall, and with the Cardinals shooting 56% Mike Brey's team was in for a long night. Gorgui Dieng led the way with 16 points and Peyton Siva chipped in with arguably his best game of the week, finishing with 13 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and just three turnovers.
When the junior point guard from Seattle plays well, Louisville plays well. That's been obvious all season long, but with it happening consistently this week on this stage the end result could be a nice boost to Louisville's seeding come Selection Sunday. The same can be said for the Bearcats, who as recently as two weeks ago still weren't considered to be a lock for the NCAA tournament. But they've grown throughout the season, and that growth has been rewarded with a Big East title game appearance.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
30 points (12-17 FG), 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in the Buckeyes' 88-71 win over Purdue in a Big Ten quarterfinal.
2. F Mitchell Watt (Buffalo)
32 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in the Bulls' 77-74 loss to Ohio in a MAC semifinal.
3. G Trey Burke (Michigan)
30 points (11-14 FG), three assists, two rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals in the Wolverines 73-69 overtime win over Minnesota in a Big Ten quarterfinal.