The remaining nine

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UC has put itself in pretty good position. At 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the Big East, the Bearcats have moved their way into a tie for sixth place in the conference and, for now, have clawed their way into the conscience of NCAA tournament prognosticators.


But remember, this is similar to what happened last season as well - before UC lost six of its final seven games (including that mind-numbing defeat to DePaul (winless during league play in the regular season that year) in the first round of the conference tournament). The Bearcats believe this year will be different.


Here's how I see the final nine regular-season games of the year for UC.


At Notre Dame, Thursday: The Bearcats (basically) shut down Luke Harangody once this season, thanks to the tremendous defensive input of sophomore forward Yancy Gates. It'll be harder to do that again - particularly in the Joyce Center.


Vs. Syracuse, Feb. 7: Whew, this is going to be a tough one for the Bearcats. The Orange have lost once all season (unless you're also counting the Lemoyne exhibition defeat) - a 10-point home loss to Pitt. They're aiming for the best start in program history, and with five players averaging double-figures, they'll probably get it en route to a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed.


At UConn, Feb. 13: With how much the Huskies have struggled since they lost to UC last month - plus, with the uncertainty surrounding coach Jim Calhoun - this might be UC's best chance to grab a road victory. Unless it's ...


At USF, Feb. 16: The Bearcats haven't fared well in the Sun Dome (and with those hideously-painted seats, you can certainly understand why), but UC still has more talent and they'll be playing for a postseason berth. Yet, it's also tough to win back-to-back games on the road in conference play. Really, I'd say a win at UConn is more likely than a win in Tampa, but that's just kind of a gut feeling. And probably incorrect.


Vs. Marquette, Feb. 21: Despite one stupefying bad loss at DePaul, the Eagles have a couple pretty good wins on their resume (Xavier, Georgetown). But mostly, they've won the games they're supposed to win and lost the ones they're supposed to lose. Where does UC fit in there? At 5/3, Marquette probably won't be favored.


Vs. DePaul, Feb. 24: If the Bearcats lose this one at home, they probably don't deserve an NCAA tournament berth.


At West Virginia, Feb. 27: Mick Cronin has done pretty well against his former boss, Bob Huggins. But Huggins' team this season is really, really good. With the production of Da'Sean Butler and Kevin Jones, mixed with the talent of Devin Ebanks, this will be a tough one for the Bearcats.


Vs. Villanova, March 2: Yikes, this will be another dangerous one for UC. Win here, though, and that likely will affect the Bearcats' seeding more than answering the question of whether they'll still have a chance to make the tournament. By that, I mean they'll be in.  


At Georgetown, March 6: And sure, why not just end the regular season with the top-10 ranked Hoyas at the Verizon Center?


If you look at the Big East standings today, you'll see the Bearcats still have to play all four of the top teams in the league. That's a nightmare way to end the year, but the real question is whether UC can withstand the final nine games and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since Huggins left.


My honest answer: I see the Bearcats going 4-5 in that stretch. That would leave them at 18-12 and 9-9 in the Big East. That puts them right on the tournament bubble. But a win against one of those top four squads might just seal their place on the bracket. Maybe the best chance of that happening is in Morgantown.


But if I had to guess whether Deonta Vaughn finally will get to experience his first NCAA tournament, I would say ... Probably. What do you think?


-In football news, former WR Mardy Gilyard and former QB Tony Pike have been invited to the NFL Combine later this month. This, of course, comes as no surprise.

Also, UC has placed 12 football players on the Big East All-Academic team. They are: QB Chazz Anderson, LB Alex Delisi, OL T.J. Franklin, S Drew Frey, DL Dan Giordano, RB John Goebel, OL Alex Hoffman, OL Sean Hooey, OL Jeff Linkenbach, LB Collin McCafferty, LB J.K. Schaffer, and S Aaron Webster.

-Make sure to check back here Wednesday evening where Katz on the Cats will have a full recap of the day's recruiting news. The Butch Jones news conference happens at 3 p.m., so we'll have his thoughts on the day's events afterward.

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