The first-round game against Providence will be a rematch of one of UC's two bad losses from the season. The 54-50 defeat at the dunk sent the two teams in different directions. It helped spark PC winning 7 of their last nine, the only two losses coming in OT at UConn on Saturday and against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
The difference? Center Kadeem Batts has gone Beastmode. Including the win against UC, over his last eight games he's averaging 19 points and 8.4 rebounds including, most recently, back-to-back double-doubles. Add that with First Team All-Big East selection Bryce Cotton at guard and there's PC's magic combo.
In the first game, UC did a nice job on the offensive glass, grabbing almost 50 percent of their misses, but not much else went right. Providence won despite Batts making only 5 of 12 free throws and sharpshooter Cotton going 2 of 9 from deep. Much of Cotton's struggles can be attributed to UC's defense but they realistically can't expect him to struggle like that again.
The biggest problem the Bearcats had in the game was finding a way to penetrate and avoid turnovers against the Providence defense. Really, against everyone that will be the deal going forward.
--- UC's formula for winning basketball games is simple: Create points off turnovers, offensive rebound like maniacs and play stifling defense. With those three things, that's enough to win games in this tournament and the next one. Talk all you want to about missed shots, shooting percentage and offensive struggles --- that's this team's formula. Every team owns their own winning formula. Some are more conducive to consistency than others. Louisville plays great defense and lets Peyton Siva create opportunities. Duke must fill it up from deep. Indiana relies on their talent to rise to the top.
By this point in the season you are who you are and have to find ways to accomplish the winning formula for your team. Points off turnovers, offensive rebounding and defense are this team's strengths, for better or worse. They must dominate in them.
--- The last few years, UC has done as well in NYC as any Big East team. They are among three teams to have won at least one game each of the last three years, USF and Notre Dame are the others. Notre Dame has advanced to the semifinals whereas all USF's wins came in the early rounds.
That also leaves them as the only team to have won at least one game in NYC each of the last three years and play in the championship game. No easy feat.
Looking even deeper at where their success ranks, only UConn and Louisville have more wins in the BET over the last three years. Here's the records of this year's Big East tournament teams the last three years:
Notre Dame: 4-3
St. John's: 2-3
Seton Hall: 2-3
Hard to believe Pittsburgh hasn't won a game in New York the last three years. Louisville with its two championship game appearances and one title deserve recognition along with UConn, but beyond those two, UC stands as the most effective team in the league's grandest stage.
What does that mean for this year? Maybe not much. But I asked Mick Cronin why his team has had so much success in New York and he pulled out an intriguing way to connect the question with this year's quest.
"Mental toughness," he said. "Guys that believe that they can win. Which with this team I got to do a better job of trying to get these guys to believe in our formula. There's times with us we worry about mistakes, we get afraid to lose at times. In fairness to them, when you start out the way we started out and end up losing so many close games you are just so worried about losing. Where, I think we can put all that behind us now. Which is going to be my message. We've done what we needed to do from a regular season standpoint we can put that behind us now. We don't have to worry about, oh, we blew it. There's a lot of that going on, not that I talked about it. It's just inevitable with the kids. You can't play not to lose. Scared money never wins. You got to play to win. That's how we got to go up there and play."
He makes a great point, I think back to the 2010 tournament team with Lance Stephenson. That team was able to leave all the disappointments of the regular season behind them, play loose, free and believe in their formula. If not for De'Sean Butler's bank shot, who knows how far that team could have gone.
Last year's team was not only playing well, but certainly believe they could beat anybody, especially after the 2OT thriller against Georgetown.
Maybe, the win against USF and likely secure spot in The Dance will help them loosen up on offense and not be as afraid to make mistakes. We shall see, but that's proven to be true with this group before.
--- Each of the last three years, a seed seven or higher has advanced to the championship game. Last year, Louisville won it as the seven seed, in 2011 UConn and Kemba Walker made the run from nine seed to title and in 2010 Georgetown lost a thriller to WVU as the No. 8 seed.
Sean Kilpatrick earns All-Big East honors for the second consecutive season, being named to the second team, just as he was last year.
While Kilpatrick would have liked to move up to the first team, he joins a small group of players who have proven good enough to make the first or second team in consecutive seasons. In fact, over the last five years only six other players have made back-to-back All-Big East teams.
- Player, School (Years on A-BE team)
- Luke Harangoudy, Notre Dame (2008, '09, '10)
- Sam Young, Pittsburgh (2008, '09)
- DeSean Butler, WVU (2009, '10)
- Austin Freeman, Georgetown (2010, '11)
- Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (2011, '12)
- Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (2012, '13)
- Sean Kilpatrick, UC (2012, '13)
Should Kilpatrick return to the Bearcats, he could join Harangoudy as the only player to make three consecutive lists. Now, he also would like to follow in the footsteps of the other six because they all ended up on the first team All-Big East at one point whereas, Kilpatrick scored secondary honors both years.
--- One final note, Mick held Justin Jackson out of Saturday's game against USF. Jackson is close to being able to play. He wanted to against the Bulls, but it worried Mick that had he played him Jackson wouldn't have been able to go this week or next. When asked if he expects him to play this week, he said, "hopefully," after the game.
As always with injuries, you don't know, but signs point to Jackson taking part in the BET.
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