It’s been an up and down year for the Cincinnati Bearcats, and their fate with regards to the NCAA Tournament is going to come down to the final weekend of the regular season and The Big East Tournament in New York next week.
Mick Cronin’s Bearcats won their first 12 games of the season, nearly completing a sweep of their non-conference schedule. However, since then they have won just eight of 18 games and hold a record of 8-9 in conference play. Things got especially bad for Cincinnati in the month of February, as they went 2-5. Currently, the Bearcats have lost six of their last eight games, including four of their last five. As a result, they are dangerously close to losing their spot in The Big Dance.
Cincinnati does have quite a few quality wins on its resume, which is what’s keeping them in the field for the time being. The Bearcats have a neutral court win over the Oregon Ducks, a road win over the Pittsburgh Panthers, and home wins over the Alabama Crimson Tide, Marquette Golden Eagles, Villanova Wildcats, and Connecticut Huskies. That’s a nice collection of wins for the Bearcats to hang their hat on. It also helps that Cincinnati’s worse losses of the season came against the St. John’s Red Storm and the Providence Friars, two teams that are also on the bubble. However, a losing record in conference play and a double-digit loss total are both alarming, even with the tough schedule Cincinnati has played, and that could ultimately knock Cincinnati out of the tournament.
Coming down the stretch, the Bearcats have a must-win game tomorrow against the South Florida Bulls. A loss would give Cincinnati a red flag on their resume and a Big East record of 8-10, allowing the tournament committee to seriously question their inclusion. In the Big East Tournament, Cincinnati is likely to face Providence in its first game, which will be another game they can’t afford to lose. Winning those two games should secure a spot in the tournament, and if the Bearcats could pull off an upset over one of the top seeds in the Big East Tournament, they would be breathing easy on selection Sunday for sure. However, a loss against South Florida or in their first conference tournament game, and there would be plenty of reason to be nervous next weekend. If the Bearcats were to lose both games, then their bubble would be all but burst and the best case scenario for them would be a spot in one of the opening round games prior to the real tournament.
There’s no question that Cincinnati is skating on thin ice these days with all the losing they’ve been doing since the calendar flipped to February. But luckily for them, they have enough quality wins to still be in control of their postseason fate. By winning tomorrow and winning at least one game in New York, the Bearcats will surely be dancing; but if not, anything could happen.