It’s a big night on the hardwood for the Queen City this evening. UC faces No. 2 Syracuse in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament — a place the Bearcats have never reached since joining the conference in 2005. Xavier has had far more success in their endeavors in the A-10 tournament, although last year Xavier bowed out in the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed. The opponent that night was the Dayton Flyers, the same team the Muskies face tonight with hopes of cementing an NCAA bid.
Let’s start with Xavier, who is in a far more intriguing position heading into tonight’s game. Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm and Shaw Siegel — all well-known braketologists — have XU in as either an 11 or 12 seed. Fair enough, although as the 3 seed in the A-10 Tournament I believe the Muskies should have to win at least one game to earn a bid to the big dance. I’m going out on a limb here — win and in, lose and lock up a home game in the NIT. Xavier split the regular season series with the Flyers with each team winning at home. The Flyers pounded Xavier by 15 points in Dayton and forced the game into overtime at Cintas. If the Flyers can get past Xavier tonight in Atlantic City then my I would place my money (the pun was intended) on Dayton to be the A-10’s third team along with Temple and Saint Louis to be accepted into the NCAA Tournament. Currently the Flyers have one more win than the Muskies, 20-11 compared with 19-11, and will have two wins over Xavier. Let’s be honest here, Xavier doesn’t have the same look it has had in previous years or even three months ago before a couple suspensions and a Kenny Frease black eye.
But if the Musketeers can hold on for a “W” the 11 to 12 seed range looks far more promising than you may believe. Xavier is talented on any given night to beat most of the 5 and 6 seeds. Here’s a mouthwatering thought: Lunardi has Xavier against Louisville in his latest projection. That would be one hell of a game.Despite the wonders Mick Cronin has worked with the Bearcats, they sit in a far less intriguing but far more troubling position. All projections indicate that UC will fall in as an 8 or 9 seed. The way the 'Cats are playing, the first round is certainly doable but barring any major upset a second round meeting with a 1 seed awaits. Both Lunardi and Palm have UC in the Midwest region with Kansas — I guess that’s the least of the other three evils, North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse.
The Bearcats will be more than familiar with Syracuse after tonight’s game and a regular season meeting, but I think the Bearcats match up better with the Jayhawks. If things go according to (my) plan and UC gets Kansas, Yancy Gates is going to have to go into beast mode against player-of-the-year candidate Thomas Robinson. I digress; a win against Syracuse tonight in the mecca of hoops, MSG, might push UC into the realm of a 7 seed. Oh how magical that would be. Hopefully an abundance of 3-pointers will take the place of a woeful 2-21 performance yesterday. The Bearcats played the Orange tough at home back in January, losing 53-60.
If Gates can put up a performance similar to yesterdays and the defense can limit the opportunities of Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph the ‘Cats have a fighting chance. It would also be nice if those cool new uniforms — 28 percent lighter than the old ones, I hear — could supply and additional 10 points or so just for good measure.
As a UC fan I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a 7 seed. I really would like to see Xavier in and prove that their recent struggles aren’t a true reflection of their potential. Check back Monday for a Selection Sunday analysis.