It's finally here...sort of. UC opens the Big East tonight against DePaul. The Blue Demons technically constitute the Big East, but they'll be more like an Oklahoma than a Louisville. That's OK. It will still be a bigger test than Georgia Southern, Savannah State or St. Francis.
On the national scale, a win in the Big East can take the Bearcats a long way. In fact, there is probably more pressure on UC during these next two games than in their trips to Villanova and Syracuse combined.
This season is all about the journey to 10-8 in the conference. That's the bingo number that would almost certainly push this team back to the NCAA tournament. You can make an argument for 9-9, and they could get in depending on who some of those wins are against, but you're then tempting fate...and the opinions of the committtee.
The Big East breaks down into three sections right now:
Great: Syracuse, Georgetown, Pitt, Villanova, UConn
Good: Louisville, Providence, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Marquette
Contenders...in the MEAC: St.John's, Rutgers, USF, Seton Hall, DePaul
How UC does against the "Good" teams will likely determine whether or not they are dancing come March. However, a loss, particularly at home where the Bearcats play every single one of the cellar dwellars, would be a huge problem considering how difficult wins will be to come by against the top five, which are currently ranked in the top 10 in the country.
Winning the five home games against STJ, Rut, USF, SH and DePaul are almost must-wins in the grand scheme. UC plays STJ and DePaul 2x. So, if UC can beat the teams they are supposed to beat, that's seven wins right there.
From that point forward you need to find three wins in these games: @Nova, @Cuse, @ND, WVU, @Pitt, U of L, @Providence, @Georgetown, UConn, @Marq, Georgetown.
Every time UC losses a game in bucket one against the lower tier, they have to add a win against the upper tier. Not a fun proposition.
The ultimate disclaimer here is that, holy crap it's too early to be looking at it like this. But this is the reality of the Big East schedule for UC, if they want to make it as easy on themselves as possible, they must beat the teams they are supposed to. They particularly must do so due to the fact all the lower tier teams come into your house. You just can't lose those games at home when 7 of 11 games against the toughest teams are away. Winning on the road anywhere in the BE is too hard to squander those opportunties.
Consider this: In conference play last year, the home team in the Big East went 87-57. Only five teams even had a winning record away from home in conference.
The Bearcats were 2-7 on the road in conference last season.
Overall, Big East teams record in home games last year was 203-69. Their record in road games was 71-101.
"The first two games are in our gym," Yancy Gates said. "We want to get as many wins as possible at home before we go out on the road where it's hard to get a win at places like Villanova,
So, joke as you will about DePaul and the current struggling state of Seton Hall, but these two wins would go a long way to getting UC to where they want to be. They're two they really can't afford to lose.
--- Can't say I saw a Pitt 15-point victory coming last night. Wow, that is going to be a tough place to go into and win. I don't care who you are.
Pitt is now 8-0 at the Peterson Events Center against Top 5 teams. Yowsa.
--- Kemba Walker took 27 shots, including 11 3-pointers. He finished with 31 points, but nobody else touched double figures. They are extremely vulnerable if they don't find a consistent second option.
--- The UC game tonight will be on ESPN3.com. If you are having problems getting it, you can use this method courtesy of a poster at BearcatNews:
"Create an att.net email account here: http://www.att.net/s/s.dll?spage=hos...ource=homepage
When you're on the ESPN3 page select at&t as your service provider, then just log in with the email address and password you've just created. And, like magic, you now have ESPN3"
--- DePaul will do what Oliver Purnell does and that's press at every opportunity tonight. The problem Purnell currently has is a lack of depth.
As will be the case most of the season, Mick Cronin plans on using depth to his advantage.
"For our style of play, we don't bring guys off the bench that can't defend," Cronin said. "It allows us to play the type of pressure defense and maintain the intensity for 40 minutes. We may have offensive lapses, but to date, we haven't had any defensive lapses. That helps us maintain leads or stay in a game through offensive lapses.
"It takes a lot out of you to do everything we do defensively and you'll need a rest. As a coach, we can play that style and know we can go to the bench and be okay. If we can make it a game of depth, it's an advantage for us 9 out of 10 games. It's gonna help tremendously in Big East play."
--- Chad Brendel breaks out the DePaul primer with plenty of comments from Cronin and players.
--- UC enjoyed a nice jump up in the polls. They received 80 votes in the AP poll, good for 29th overall and they received 24 votes in the coaches poll, good for 32nd.
My prediction of cracking the Top 25 the first week of 2011 if they keep winning is looking pretty solid.
--- Andy Katz on the Big East. He slots UC at 12th still.
Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger has his preview. He's placed UC 10th.
The Bearcats are receiving little respect and loving playing that card right now.
"(The rest of the Big East) probably thinks we haven't played anybody yet, but we're not going to stop," Larry Davis said. "There's not a lot of respect but there will be."
I thought this quote from Cronin spoke to how anxious this team is to open the Big East tonight.
"I think our guys are agitated that they've been dominating their opponents. Our road margin is around 23 points a game, and we feel like we're not getting respect. They've seen other teams play and they want to get against them. They haven't been challenged and they want to be."
--- Scott Springer tackles UC's arrival at the Big Boy table.
--- I know it's Xavier, but this is a pretty great story on Mark Lyons needing to hitch a ride on the bus of Albany -- their opponent tonight -- in order to get back to Cincinnati.
--- All right, when I start linking Musketeers stories, you know it's time for randomness...
--- If you think I'm ever going to stop linking Blake Griffin highlights, you may want to find another blog.
--- This man has eaten at 15,007 different McDonald's. Worse: Eating at 15,007 different McDonald's or the fact he counted every McDonald's he's eaten at?
--- I kind of wish more referees would give fans the finger.
--- Brobible posted its 61 favorite viral videos of the year. That'll waste your day.
I just wonder how Basil Marceaux ended up doing in that race for Governor?