For two straight seasons in 1961 and 1962 the Buckeyes and Bearcats squared off in the National Title game following Ohio State’s first and only National Championship. Both years the Bearcats got the better of the Buckeyes, winning their only two basketball national titles in the NCAA Tournament Era. This game marks the first time these two teams have met in the NCAA tournament since that game in 1962, a historical clash of titans occurring far earlier in the tournament than their lofty history would prefer.
The Cincinnati Bearcats have had a successful season this year, earning their second tournament bid in two years and working their way to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001. During the season the Bearcats have notched impressive victories over: Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, twice against Georgetown – once away, once in the Big East Tournament – and Marquette at home. While they have not been a particularly consistent team during the season, they performed well enough to catch the eye of the selection committee.
Cinci has not had a particularly easy path to the Sweet 16. While their first opponent was a very young 11th-seeded Texas squad, the Longhorns surged and nearly caught the overconfident Bearcats after scoring a pathetic 2 points in the first 10 minutes and 15 seconds of the game. Cincinnati found themselves in a dog fight over the last ten minutes of the game, after watching Texas slowly and inexorably climb back into the game, but were able to pull out the 65-59 victory to advance.
In the Round of 32 the Bearcats were paired up with a hot Florida State Seminoles team fresh off an ACC Tournament Championship win over UNC the week before. The Seminoles were clearly favored in the game, but the Bearcats were much better than many expected. Both teams clawed for the advantage throughout the game, never achieving more than a 5 point lead before the end of the game. In the end, the Bearcats had succeeded at gaining the upper-hand and earned the opportunity to face the second-seeded Buckeyes in Boston.
The Big East has a lot of ranked teams this year, to say the least, and some believe that the conference will have as many as 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament come March. While the debate will rage on about the true strength of the Big East, it is fairly certain that the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Cincinnati Bearcats will be two of the teams from the conference on the periphery of the conversation at the end of the season, trying to make their case that they are worthy of being included in the Big Dance. This pair of unranked teams faced each other over the past weekend, hoping to improve their stock and take a step forward in the conference standings among their more formidable brethren.
It was a packed house at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, as the fans turned out to welcome back Bob Huggins one more time. Huggy hasn’t changed too much since his time in the Nasty Natty by all appearances, but the Bearcat program he left behind has certainly experienced a decline in stature. The Bearcats have had some decent squads and some decent players come through since Huggins left in 2005, but have not made a trip to the NCAA Tournament since their former coach moved on (or more accurately, was moved on).
This year’s Cincinnati team has shown some promise of finally getting back to the postseason showcase, but a strong early season record is starting to look a bit misleading in the light of recent losses. Saturday’s contest ultimately resulted in another loss for the Bearcats, only their fourth on the season, but likely a preview of things to come as Big East play rolls along. Saturday’s final was a 66-55 tally in favor of WVU, a score that to some extent reflects the grind-it-out, ugly style that Huggins seems to have perfected. Read More