The Cincinnati Bearcats will look to add another marquee win to their NCAA Tournament resume as they travel to Washington DC to take on the Georgetown Hoyas on Wednesday night.
Georgetown might be the hottest team in the Big East right now after reeling off 9 wins in their last 10 games. They rely on a trio of talented guards in Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark who combine for 43.5 points per games on the season. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin and his team rely on a stout half court defense, but he is worried about finding ways to limit their perimeter scoring.
“They've got great guard play, Cronin said. “They can really shoot the basketball, it's no fun watching them on film. For us we've got to get defensive stops so we've got to find a way to take them out of their rhythm. They do have a tendency to turn it over at times so we're going to have to find a way to take them out of their rhythm.”
The anchor of that Bearcat defense is senior wing Rashad Bishop, who Cronin believes is the best perimeter defender in the Big East conference. Bishop will likely be assigned to Freeman for a large portion of the action and he is ready for the challenge.
“It makes it tough because if you sag off one they can kill you,” said Bishop. “I think we've just got to stay in front of them and make them take challenged shots.”
Many thought the Hoyas were in for a long conference season after starting out 1-4 in league play. With the two games against Georgetown so late in the season Cronin wasn't too focused on their performances during that stretch, but to him it looks more like the reality of playing in this conference.
“I'd say like anything else, the Big East just happens to you,” Cronin said. “Sometimes it's just the schedule and the way things shake out. They had a really good run in the pre conference that could have worn them down a little bit.”
The emotional roller coaster that was the 93-81 overtime victory at Providence put the Cats at 21-6 overall and 8-6 in the Big East. That's a game that in years past Cronin's teams couldn't finish in arge part because there was still a lot of learning about how to win at the highest level happening for everyone. With a veteran squad now in place, they were able to hold on in regulation and pull away in overtime.
“That's college basketball this time of year because every game has so much riding on it,” Cronin said. “When you're on the road like that it's dangerous. I thought Rashad Bishop was such a calming influence and it showed we had a veteran team because we could have folded, but we ended up winning the game by double figures.”
Bishop has been the leader Cronin has been looking for, and has shown he took his late season suspension to heart a year ago. It was his presence in the huddle before the extra period started that helped get the team refocused and back to the task at hand.
“When we went to overtime we all just told each other lets stay together,” said Bishop. “Keep playing hard so we can go out and win this game.”
If there was one major area of concern that came from the win it was the Friars ability to hang around because of their play on the offensive glass. The power forward position has been a work in progress throughout Big East play, and Cronin has to find some answers down the stretch to solidify the position.
“Our problem was lack of rebounding,” Cronin said. “One thing we've got to do is get better production out of the 4 position. Darnell is really struggling of late, he didn't rebound the ball well. I thought Justin when we came back with him did a really good job.”
NCAA Tournament in Sight
With 21 wins overall and 8 in conference as 4 games remain, the goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Cronin is getting closer and closer to reality. In order to accomplish the season long goal the formula is easy. Win.
“We're in good shape, but we've got to win,” Cronin said. “You can't lose 4 in a row. We've got to try and find a way to go win Wednesday night, I think that would cap it.”
With 3 more teams added to the field this year, the margin for error is a little wider and Cronin has his team playing with a great sense of urgency after the home loss to St John's just over a week ago. A team meeting got everyone back on the same page and refocused on the goal.
“We've got to win, and we've won two in a row since that meeting,” said Cronin. “We've got to play like a team that has to win games. That being said, that applies to almost everybody.”