Though few people in Cincinnati could watch the game on TV, those of us who dug out the old Walkman tape deck to listen to the radio broadcast were treated to a well-played ballgame by the Bearcats last night. In beating Georgetown, the ‘Cats have overcome their first major obstacle to earning consideration for an NCAA tournament berth this year. CityBeat columnist Bill Peterson wrote yesterday that the Bearcat basketball team is on the verge of respectability, a status that hasn’t exactly earned the devotion of certain Huggins-worshipping fans.
Last night’s win upgrades this pseudo-state, at least a little bit. While Mick Cronin bashers out there can still argue that the ‘Cats have a tough road ahead regarding an NCAA tournament berth, it's thanks to the win over Georgetown that road still exists.
By moving to 4-4 in the league that most analysts expect to send nine teams to the Big Dance, UC has given itself a shot to prove that it deserves one of the league’s final invites over the teams that have already established themselves as contenders for them. At 4-4, the ‘Cats are a game behind West Virginia and one game ahead of Notre Dame and Georgetown, both of whom UC will play during the next 10 days. Providence probably deserves to be included among the Big East’s middle-ground teams, but they’ve already beaten UC twice so overtaking them for a tournament nod would take a serious fall by the Friars.
Still, with three games left on the schedule against the league’s weaker teams, UC has a chance to finish 9-9 in the Big East, a record that would be difficult to ignore on Selection Sunday. With games remaining against West Virginia, Notre Dame and Georgetown, the Bearcats control their fate, one that would look a lot more bleak if they didn’t take care of business last night at home.
The Bearcats showed a lot of growth in beating a talented Georgetown team, even if the Hoyas lost their leading scorer late in the first half. (No one puts asterisks next to Providence’s wins over UC because the Bearcats lost their point guard in the preseason.) Yancy Gates outplayed Georgetown’s number-one ranked freshman Greg Monroe, and guys like Rashad Bishop, Mike Williams and Dion Dixon stepped up and filled their much-needed roles on offense.
It’s been rough watching this year’s team grow, and last night’s win certainly could end up being the pinnacle of a lackluster season. But that win was necessary to take another couple shots at making this year more special than those of us thought possible after the ugly Marquette loss just three weeks ago.
It’s certainly possible that UC will lose one of its three against St. Johns, South Florida or Seton Hall down the stretch, but it’s just as likely that they’ll knock off one of the big dogs along the way to make up for it. Either way, entering this stretch with four wins instead of three has given the Bearcats the opportunity to play the Big East's second-tier teams for the right to go to the tournament.
The ‘Cats are a young and inexperienced team, but they’ve showed enough improvement over the last couple weeks to be considered contenders for one of the league’s final tournament spots. We’ll find out in the next two weeks whether they’ve grown enough to prove it.