The regular season is drawing to a close as Cincinnati and Xavier each have one game left before conference tournament time. Cincinnati will hear their name called on "Selection Sunday" — as for Xavier, only time will tell.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Xavier as one of his first four out, and I tend to agree — although I disagree with the pointless bickering in the comments section regarding the brawl that happened — wait for it — almost three months ago. The Bearcats are listed as a 10 seed, a much better prospect than having an 8 or 9 seed and having to play Kentucky or Syracuse if they can make it past the first round. With the current mock up, the ‘Cats would play San Diego State in the first round — a winnable game — and North Carolina in the second — maybe, with a hope and a prayer.
Not to say that crazier things haven’t happened: VMI, Butler (twice) and George Mason have all knocked off No. 1 seeds in the tournament. UC has more talent than any of those teams, and if they can continue playing like they did against Marquette this past Wednesday the Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 isn’t out of the question.
The Bearcats played stifling defense against Marquette, forcing 17 turnovers. They dominated the paint, outscoring the Golden Eagles 42-24, and JaQuon Parker was a revelation. Parker used his size and strength to drive to the hoop at will and went 2-for-4 from behind the arc, including a halftime buzzer-beater that put UC up 16 at the half. Parker finished the game with a career-best 28 points.
The Bearcats didn’t look back. Yancy Gates finished the game with 13 boards despite being limited to less than four minutes of first half play because of foul trouble. The 72-61 final wasn’t as close as the score indicated, as UC coasted to victory. With the emergence of Parker the 'Cats now have a steady combo of inside and outside threats that will make them a difficult team to face both in New York and in the NCAA tournament.
Xavier, on the other hand, isn’t a lock for a ticket to March Madness. Winning the A10 tourney would put all doubt to rest. The Muskies host Charlotte tomorrow; with a loss the NIT will certainly be beckoning. A win leaves a glimmer of hope, but in all likelihood, Chris Mack and his team will be on the outside looking in next Sunday.