There are a lot of important things in this world. Food. Water. Air. Louisville basketball. Faith. Sex. Not in that order. Few things are more important that what you are about to read. Earlier today, everyone's favorite jerk, Hot Hot, and I traded emails talking about Louisville and Cincinnati. Things like is this a football rivalry? What are the memorable games from the last few years? Can Cincinnati handle Louisville in the post? What about Cashmere Wright? Can he make shots again? We cover it all in the most important thing you'll ever read. At this moment.
You'll notice I ask questions and talk about the Cincinnati side. It's because I run the site BearcatsBlog.com. The content is more original than the blog name. Slightly more original. I do my best, leave me alone.
My parts are the ones that say CS. Hot Hot's are the ones that say HH. Enjoy
CS: Cincinnati and Louisville were basketball rivals in the 80s, some of the 90s and some of the 2000s. Two parter to you. 1) has this become a football rivalry more than a basketball rivalry?
HH: Since joining the Big East, it does feel like the football rivalry has surpassed the basketball one in importance. Which is weird, since they've played each other in two of the last three Big East Tournaments, including last year's championship game. The games are almost always relatively close, but I can't think of specific moments or overtime thrillers like Louisville's had with Notre Dame and Marquette in the Big East. The coaching changes have to be a factor, as well.
The initial transition from Huggins (and Kennedy) to Cronin, when the Bearcats' struggled to crack into the Top 25 and make the NCAA Tournament hurt the rivalry. Back in the C-USA days, when Louisville played Cincinnati, the game always mattered. Huggins versus Crum was an event. They both usually had ranked teams and played each other twice a year, home and home. And no matter which team was better at the time, the home team almost always won, and the regular season series always split 1-1. Nothing against either Pitino or Cronin, but the fact they're former coworkers kind of softened the rivalry. These types of former relationships can go two ways in rivalry games, but this one seems almost too cordial. Where's the hate, y'all?
CS: Are Cincinnati and Louisville good enough rivals that they will play when Louisville leaves the *unknown league name I prefer Conference Scott here* for the ACC?
HH: I think both schools will continue the rivalry, especially if Pitino & Cronin are still around. Both programs are too close to each other and have too much history to not keep it going, even if the recent rivalry games have been relatively dry.
This may not be popular, but I think a break for a year or two could help heat things up again between the two schools. Kind of like Louisville's recently rekindled rivalry with Memphis. Maybe the absence will help the hate in each fan bases' hearts grow fonder. Due to proximity and shared living quarters, Memphis, Cincinnati and Louisville feel like brothers or maybe cousins that all lived in the same room at grandma's house growing up. A temporary break from each other could bring them closer, in a way. This analogy needs some work. How does the Cincinnati fan feel about the rivalry, both recent and future?
Let's talk about this year's matchup. They've had a pretty tough conference schedule, but what's up with Cincinnati's recent losing skid--can we put all the blame on Cash Wright's knee injury? Can Cincinnati's frontcourt keep Louisville's honest?
CS: I can't say that I disagree too much with your take. A year or two off from the rivalry would probably help things heat back up. Assuming that conference realignment doesn't change in the next year or two, Cincinnati is going to have to pick up their scheduling. Louisville has played the rivals like Memphis and Western Kentucky in the non-conference the past few seasons. I think that when the teams figure something out to keep the Keg of Nails, they will figure something out for basketball. Mick Cronin says Pitino is one of his mentors. Pitino seems to try to give his coaching tree a game every year.
The lack of memorable games between the two is kind of surprising since every game since 2008 has been in single digits. The only two that jump out at me are the 2008 game where awful Cincinnati beat Louisville when David Pollard came back and the 2010 BET game. I honestly can't remember a thing from the BET game from last year, just that it wasn't well played and it bummed me out.
Cincinnati's losing skid is tied to three things, steals, 3 pointers and late game execution. The team feeds off their defense. When they are blocking shots and turning teams over, they get into a better flow of things offensively. For the Cats that means shooting 3 pointers. In the last 6 games, the 3 UC wins have seen them with more than 5 steals and more than 5 made 3 pointers. In the losses, both are under 5. Their defense can be mediocre at times. If they give up 4 straight points, it's like they come back down the floor and try to get it all back on one shot. And by that I mean they will take some seriously deep 3 pointers.
As for the late game execution, you watched the UConn game? That is typical for a late game scenario for UC. One of the big reasons they are so poor late is because Cashmere Wright handles the ball and takes the most shots. He's clearly been a lesser version of himself since returning from his knee injury. He can't get his jump shot going. He hasn't made more than 2 three pointers in a game since January 5. The last 5 games he's 6-36 from 3. That's roughly 17%. He's going to put up shots because he has to. Wright has been pretty good against Louisville in his career and especially the last 3 games. If Cincinnati is going to win, it's going to be because he's making shots.
The big men of Cincinnati keeping Dieng and Behanan in check is going to be a tough task. They are probably down Justin Jackson, the energy guy. Cheikh Mbodj is a pretty good shot blocker, he leads the Big East in block percentage in conference play which is saying something. Titus Rubles can do it all except hit jump shots. David Nyarsuk is mainly tall. The thing all 3 of those guys have in common is that they foul a lot. Off the bench, Jermaine Sanders is not an interior threat. He can rebound and he mainly shoots 3s. Shaquille Thomas is a slasher with a bit of an unrefined game. Kind of like Kevin Ware last year to make a comparison to Louisville.
Cincinnati's big have trouble scoring. Rubles is the only one that can get his own shot, but he's having such a terrible shooting year that he can't take advantage. Mbodj and Nyarsuk have to block shots and hit the glass to be effective. Teams play off them and smother the guards. It is a part of the reason for the guards not great shooting numbers. At best, they rebound, make a couple of buckets and block shots. At worst, they have 10 fouls to use on Dieng.
Question for you. Louisville has been playing some incredible defense lately, but it has been at against the worst teams in the league and fading Syracuse. Obviously the Cards are a great team. Are they rounding into dangerous shape or are they simply taking advantage of the weaklings and a challenge is needed?
HH: That's true, aside from the 5OT loss at Notre Dame, Louisville's just been beating up on the bottom third of the league since crushing Marquette on Super Bowl Sunday. The Cards finally won a close conference game at Syracuse on Saturday, but a lot of that was being in the right place at the right time--steals by Russ Smith and Luke Hancock in particular--and Hancock shooting out of his mind. The former is something that had snakebitten Louisville in games that came down to the wire. The proverbial quarter kept coming up tails despite U of L playing the same defense and running the same sets in most of their late-game possessions, so it was good to see it come up heads at Syracuse despite Siva being benched and a couple questionable late whistles.
I do think Louisville's rounding into dangerous shape, partly due to the increasingly reliable 3PT shooting by Hancock and Kevin Ware. This is the same thing critics have been saying the past three years about Pitino's offense. Missing long jump shots gives U of L's opponents easy buckets in transition and allows defenses to sag off Siva on the perimeter and cause a lot of problems for the Cards' halfcourt offense. Though Siva's jump shot has regressed, for like the seventh time in his career it seems, he's still playing great defense and distributing the ball well. It may not get him drafted into the NBA, but Louisville can get to the Final Four with Siva playing this role, partly due to the emergence of other options like Russ and Ware.
CS: At what point in the game do we get the first #SivaFoul?
HH: The first #SivaFoul will come before the first under-12 timeout. Siva didn't score a single point at Syracuse and will be keyed up to play Cincinnati's guards at home. If he finishes the game with less than four fouls, I'll be surprised. And to be fair to him, I think an aggressive Siva is good for Louisville in this matchup. Getting more experience playing in foul trouble against good guards could serve him well heading into the postseason, so go ahead Peyton, #SivaFoul your heart out.
Should we do some game predictions? I like Louisville, 68-59 in another low scoring game where the first team to 60 points wins. As for player predictions, I see a bounce-back game for Cash Wright and fairly even scoring from Louisville's starting five.
If Cincinnati loses this game, would a home loss to South Florida this weekend put UC on the NCAA Tournament bubble? How much pressure is there on the Bearcats and Cronin tonight?
CS: A home loss to South Florida should put anyone on the bubble. Back to back losses to close the season 1-5 with the only win coming against a team without their best player would be red flag central. The bubble is very weak and the committee normally respects 20 win Big East teams, but losing both would be terrible. UC would have some work to do in the BET for sure.
I think there is a lot of pressure on Cincinnati tonight. This is a team that they've traditionally played tough. It's a rival. It's a huge stage for them. Their last national tv appearance did not go so well. More than that, this team needs a huge win. When you look at their schedule, every good win, except Marquette, has 2012 attached to it. With the expectations this team had coming into the season, with the way they've played the top teams in the league close, they need a win tonight to get over that hurdle mentally. Winning would be huge for their season, but it would be much bigger for their mindset. The biggest problem for this team might be between the ears.
Prediction wise, I think Louisville will win. Cincinnati likes a slower pace, despite whatever Mick Cronin says, so a 66-58 score or something around there seems like it would be reasonable. Cincinnati has scored 61 points in regulation of every one of their wins and under 61 in regulation in every one of their losses. They scored 55 in regulation at UConn. Louisville being able to key on the Cincinnati guards is a big point of concern for Cincinnati. They have to get someone like Parker or Rubles going to open up the 3 point line. Kilpatrick is going to get his because he shoots a lot and he's a good scorer.
On the defensive side, I think Louisville has a couple of major matchups in their favor. Rubles is not good defensively and he's not as big as Behanan. If Chane takes him on the block, it could be a long night. Kilpatrick guards the other teams best player, so I expect him to be on Russ. That's a tough matchup for everyone. I think Smith or Kilpatrick ends up in foul trouble in the first half. Dieng should have the biggest advantage inside. He should be able to score, if not, he should be able to draw fouls. Cincinnati's best hope is that they pack it up and make Louisville shoot from distance. You have to take your chances with Siva shooting. If he makes, he makes.
How weird is it that Cincinnati hasn't played at Louisville since 2010? That's very weird.