Those pesky Cincinnati Bearcats won their second game in two nights late Wednesday and their reward is a quarterfinal game against old friend Bob Huggins and the Big East Tournament's third-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers (9 p.m., ESPN).
One night after trying to give away an eventual win over Rutgers, UC was again at times brutal to watch in a 69-66 defeat of Louisville, whose second late-season defeat of conference champ Syracuse last week seemed to cement the Cardinals' NCAA Tournament invitation.
The Bearcats are a bad offensive team, worse from the foul line and still make mental mistakes at critical junctures the way they did even in the fat 1990s when Huggins was racking up 25 wins a year in Cincinnati.
Led by Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson, however, they held on against Rick Pitino's Cardinals under the bright lights of Midtown Manhattan's Madison Square Garden. Fellow New Yorker Edgar Sosa scored a career-high 28 points in a losing effort for Louisville.
It was only four years ago when Gerry McNamara led Syracuse to four wins in four days in this very tournament. And now with the expanded bracket, Cincinnati has the opportunity -- or tall task, depending how you look at it -- to rattle off an unprecedented five in five. Two down and three to go; here's how they can finish the feat:
+ Continue to attack the offensive glass against West Virginia. Huggins' Mounties are strong, active and physical, just as the Bearcats were under his watch. They've got many New York connections and will treat the tradition-steeped MSG floor as if it's their own. But Cincinnati's best wins this year (Maryland, Vanderbilt) were away from home, so it just needs to focus on what it's good at -- crashing the glass and collecting their many misses.
+ Shoot the ball well in the semifinal round against Notre Dame, which I think will upset Pittsburgh Thursday night. Asking Cincinnati to shoot well is like coaxing Charlize Theron to meet me for drinks, but with their interior beef, the Bearcats are more than capable of slowing down gimpy Irish banger Luke Harangody. The star forward lit up UC for 37 in one meeting, but was held to 14 on 5-of-20 shooting in the other. I think Cincinnati keeps him in check and Stephenson controls the pace the way he did in the second half against Louisville.
+ Blow up whichever hotel Syracuse is bunking in. Otherwise, I don't think the Bearcats would have much of a chance in Saturday's title game. The Orange are an NCAA No. 1 seed and play outstanding zone defense, precisely the recipe to keep a poor-shooting team like Cincinnati on the dim side of the scoreboard.