Louisville Cardinals -2.5 vs. Cincinnati Bearcats – Big East Championship Game
Raise your hand if you had this Final predicted three weeks ago?? Anyone? That’s what I thought. Cincinnati was precariously perched on the bubble and Louisville was just sort of floundering around; not too terrible to fall from the ranking too far, but not good enough to have anyone even consider them as a threat to do much come March.
What a difference a week makes… but before we get into tonight’s championship, or start talking about how I am a perfect 5-0 ATS so far in the Big East Tournament, or before we talk about the 7-1 ATS streak overall (with the only loss being a cover that missed by one point)… like I said, BEFORE we get in any of that, let’s take a real quick assessment of some teams that helped/hurt themselves in the Selection Committee’s eyes over the last few days.
With all apologies to NBC’s collection of portly joggers, Washington is this week’s Biggest Loser. The Huskies, seeded #1 in the Pac 12 fell in their opening game to 9th seeded Oregon State and might now become the first BCS conference school to WIN their regular season title and NOT be invited to the NCAA Tournament. Ouch.
Runner-up losers include Tennessee (dagger OT loss last night to Ole Miss), Northwestern (ditto for their OT loss to Minnesota), Minnesota (who followed it up with a gagging OT loss to Michigan – the win might have gotten them a second look), Seton Hall (please, seriously, their last two games were losses to Rutgers and DEPAUL by 28. Leave them home committee!), and Cal (done after yesterday’s double-digit’er to Colorado).
Also in the “too-bad, so-sad” pile are conference regular season but now NIT participants Iona, Weber State, Nevada and Valparaiso. Entire great seasons, gone in a 40-minute puff of smoke. March Madness is such a fickle mistress…
North Carolina State should have leapfrogged a few bubble-mates with their win over UVA yesterday, and Xavier might have clinched their bid by scoring the last seven points to beat Dayton 70-69 in the A10 Quarters. Colorado, even if they lose in today’s Pac12 Final to Arizona is IN on my bracket (the same cannot be said for Sean Miller’s Arizona squad, they need to win today still), and St Louis and Memphis should have done enough already in their conference tournaments that they are safe and secure at this point (though there is NO WAY Memphis loses to Marshall today. Take that one to the bank.)
For all the big winners though, there might not be any bigger than Cincinnati. Three weeks ago, they were on the outside looking in. Two weeks ago, they were still a “bubble team” need of a few more quality wins. Today? They are preparing for the Big East Final and outside of North Carolina and Kentucky, are the hottest major team in the country. And I’ll say this for Cronin’s Cats, they have beaten a much more impressive battery of foes than either of the two aforementioned teams.
I think they keep it rolling tonight and finish what they started. I am honestly surprised Louisville is a 2 ½ point favorite in this game. Cincinnati has won 9 of 10, covering in 8 of the 9 wins, and beat Louisville head-to-head just a few weeks ago. These two teams are nearly statistically identical; both average around 69 points and give up about 61. Both shoot a little over 42% from the floor, UC a little better behind the arc, Louisville a little better from the stripe. However, I am not sure Louisville has a consistent answer for Yancy Gates if he continues to play the way he has the last two days.
The biggest difference in this game – my prediction – is that Louisville makes one or two more sloppy plays, bad shots, or turnovers in the final three or four minutes and UC edges them out. There is just something so dangeriously hit-or-miss, all-or-nothing when the ball is in Peyton Siva’s hands with double-digits and shrinking on the clock. I think it will be just enough chaos for Cincinnati to sneak out with the trophy.
It will make for one heck of a story for a team that began the season getting booed off their home floor after a loss to the Presbyterian Blue Hose. Yep… Blue Hose. Google it…
Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats +2.5