Louisville-Cincinnati Preview


Positioning in the Big East is on the line for Louisville and Cincinnati on Thursday night.

These teams have 9-5 conference marks and the winner will enhance its chances for a double-bye in the Big East tournament when the No. 17 Cardinals visit the Bearcats.

The top four teams in the Big East gain double-byes, and Louisville (21-6) and Cincinnati (19-8) trail South Florida and No. 9 Georgetown in the race for the No. 4 spot.

The Cardinals can record their sixth straight 10-win season in the conference, a benchmark that has helped them reach the last five NCAA tournaments.

The Bearcats, who are seeking a third straight win over the Cardinals, are not as certain to gain an NCAA berth partly due to non-conference losses to Presbyterian and Marshall.

"I think we're still in a must-win situation because early in the season we got some tough losses that don't look good on our resume," senior guard Dion Dixon said. "We got the same urgency every game. We feel we must win them."

Cincinnati took a major step forward Saturday with its fourth win in five games, 62-57 over Seton Hall. Dixon scored 20 points and Cashmere Wright added 13.

Dixon picked up the slack on a night in which top scorer Sean Kilpatrick matched a season low with seven points.

"It is my last go-around, so I am trying to get there," said the 6-foot-3 Dixon, who has five blocks in the last two games. "I am just trying to give it all on both ends of the floor for my team."

The Bearcats' 4-1 stretch has coincided with the insertion of Jaquon Parker to create a four-guard lineup. How that unit fares against a Louisville frontcourt that features 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng and 6-6 Cincinnati native Chane Behanan remains to be seen.

Cardinals coach Rick Pitino does not necessarily believe his team has an advantage up front.

"They hurt us last year," Pitino said. "They took us out of our offense, we had a very difficult time scoring against them, and they had a bigger lineup last year. We have not traditionally played well against Cincinnati teams like we do West Virginia, Pittsburgh and them."

Behanan, a freshman who is averaging 9.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, could be targeted by the Bearcats fans. He committed to Cincinnati as a freshman in high school before changing his mind as a junior.

"My whole family is going to be there," Behanan said. "I'm looking forward to it, especially knowing that I was committed to the University of Cincinnati at an early age. I'm just looking forward to playing with the players, especially Yancy Gates - we got a little history together in high school."

Bearcats coach Mick Cronin defended the embattled Gates over the forward's technical foul Saturday for vehemently ripping the ball away from the Pirates' Jordan Theodore. Gates was previously suspended six games for his part in the infamous brawl with Xavier on Dec. 10.

"That is our first technical foul all year - player or coach," said Cronin, an assistant to Pitino at Louisville from 2001-03.

Pitino, whose club has won seven of eight, is 4-3 against Cronin.