NEW YORK − Going into the first game of Wednesday’s Big East Tournament quadruple header, Cincinnati was projected in the field of 68 by most bracket prognosticators, but their position wasn’t quite concrete. The last thing Mick Cronin’s squad wanted was to give the selection committee a reason to exclude them, and against Providence, they sealed their spot, downing the Friars 61-44.
Wednesday afternoon also marked the debut of Cincinnati’s alternate uniforms, made by Adidas and unofficially known as the Zubaz model for their unique pattern. The Bearcats are one of six schools wearing them (Louisville and Notre Dame will be debuting their versions at the Garden this week as well), and the rollout last month did not receive the warmest of receptions. Our own Jeff Eisenberg referred to them as "hideous" and he was definitely expressing the majority opinion. Kansas fans were so angry about the Jayhawks version they filed a petition to the White House to get them banned.
I will be honest with you: In person, they weren’t that bad. I thought the Bearcats model was the best (faint praise, I know) of the six, and the dark pattern looked okay when paired with the bright orange-red shoes that looked slightly aflame reflecting off the hardwood. I was informed by basically everyone that they looked terrible on television, and while this isn’t a blanket endorsement for the Zubazification of college sports, I thought they worked for Cincinnati.
They also received an endorsement from the Bearcats after the game. "We love them," said guard Sean Kilpatrick.
"They think they look good," said Cronin. "And most important thing is the recruits think they look great. That's the most important thing, so we're appreciative that adidas included us in their league program in the postseason."
Segueing away from fashion analysis to hoops, things couldn’t have started much worse for the Friars, including their pep band showing up thirty minutes after tip. They went down 20-6 while shooting 12 percent from the field, completely stymied by the Bearcats defense and center Cheikh Mbodj, who tallied five blocks and controlled the paint all game. Perhaps inspired by the arrival of their musical supporters, a Providence press spurred a nice run to close the first half, cutting it to a 31-23 deficit.
The Friars threatened throughout the second half, but they couldn’t narrow the gap past four points, closing it to 31-27 on a Bryce Cotton layup. Cotton, the Big East’s leading scorer, had a miserable shooting day, going 5-for-14 from the field, including 0-for-6 from behind the arc. Cincinnati outrebounded, outdefended and outhustled Providence throughout, ending up with a 41-32 advantage on the boards. Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker shared the load on offense, combining for 32 points.
The Friars’ NCAA dreams are done, but the Bearcats are back in action tomorrow, facing off against the top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas at noon.