For Cincinnati (13-17, 8-10 in the Big East) Wednesday will mark their first trip to the conference tournament under 2nd year head coach Mick Cronin. It will also be the first time any of his players make the journey. Cronin and the Bearcats missed out on the event last year after managing just a 2-14 record and finishing in the basement of the Big East. Their six-win improvement this season ranks second in the conference behind Connecticut, who improved from six wins last year to 13 this season, two games out of first place.
The Bearcats have struggled as of late, though. Sunday night, the team dropped their 5th straight game, causing them to fall to the number ten seed in the Big East tournament. Pittsburgh (22-9, 10-8 in the Big East) enters the tournament as the number seven seed thanks to winning three of their last four games, the first of which coming against Cincinnati.
The regular season match ups between these two teams show this one to be a close, hard fought battle. The Panthers came into Clifton on January 19th ranked number 16 in the nation, but a poor shooting effort and a very balanced scoring attack from UC proved too much for Pitt to handle, and the Bearcats escaped with a 62-59 win.
The February 27th rematch lived up to its exciting billing. Cincinnati shot better that Pittsburgh from the floor, but had only two scorers reach more than seven points. The Panthers balanced scoring attack, as well capitalization on 17 Bearcat turnovers, helped the Panthers even the series with a 73-67 victory.
The biggest worry for Bearcat fans should be Pitt junior forward Sam Young.
"Sam Young's an all-Big East Player, he hurt us last time. He's hurt everybody, averages about 18 (points) a game," said Cronin prior to the February 27th game.
In his two games against Cincinnati this season, Young has led the Panthers in averaging 22 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 steals per game.
However, Young may not necessarily be the Panther the Bearcats need to focus on.
In Pittsburgh's win over UC, freshman DeJuan Blair churned out an impressive 18-point, 10 rebounds performance. In Cincinnati's win over Pitt, Blair was held to just four points and three rebounds.
Senior John Williamson is the hottest Bearcat of late. Williamson is averaging just over 17 points per game though his last five games.
Williamson and the rest of the UC squad will take the court against the Pitt Panthers at 7:00PM Wednesday night; with the winner facing off against number two seeded Louisville on Thursday at 7:00PM. Every game of the tournament can be seen nationally on ESPN, starting with Villanova and Syracuse's tip off at noon Wednesday.
UC and Pitt will take their Ohio River Rivalry on the road. The teams will meet for the third time this season, this time in the first round of the Big East Championship tournament. The Bearcats and Panthers split their regular season series, with each team winning on their respective home court. Now, they settle things once and for all on the grandest of stages- Madison Square Garden.
The Bearcats look to start a winning streak in the Big East Tournament starting with Pitt.