Breaking Down Cincinnati’s Big East Tournament Scenarios

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The Bearcats made a statement last night in boosting their NCAA Tournament chances. No one can deny that beating their 4th ranked team this season surely put them in the good graces of the selection committee. But before UC can go dancing, they will have one more tournament to play in to pad that resume, the Big East Tournament. As far as seeding goes, the win over Louisville definitely cleared the haze a bit. However, there are still a number of scenarios at play that will determine when the Bearcats will take the court for the first time at Madison Square Gardens.

Let me set up the current situation as it stands right now. Cincinnati is currently in a three-way tie for 4th place in the Big East with Georgetown and South Florida. UC owns the tiebreaker with G-Town having beaten them in early January and the tiebreaker with USF will be decided on Sunday in Tampa. The Bearcats have beaten every team in slot 6 – 8 (Louisville, Seton Hall, UConn) and owns the tiebreaker as such. The only team other than South Florida that the Bearcats have not beaten are West Virginia that can affect UC’s seeding in the Big East Tournament.

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at all the possible scenarios at play. Get out your calculators, because worst is first:

Scenario 1: Cincinnati Plays in the Opening Games

– Worst case scenario, the Bearcats lose their final three games of the regular season, finishing 10 – 8 in the Big East and everybody else around them (Georgetown, South Florida, Louisville, Seton Hall, UConn, West Virginia) win their final games*. All have three to play except for Seton Hall that has two.

*USF-WVU play each other at the end of the season. If UC lost its last three games, it wouldn’t matter which team won in Scenario 1.

– By record, Georgetown, South Florida, and Louisville would all have a better Big East record than Cincinnati who would be tied with Seton Hall, UConn, and West Virginia at 10 – 8. Now here’s where the tiebreakers come into play.

– The first tiebreaker rule in the Big East is head-to-head matchups. Cincinnati beat Seton Hall and UConn but lost to West Virginia. Seton Hall split with UConn and both beat West Virginia. UC is 2 – 1 against these opponents, Seton Hall/UConn are 2 – 1 but lost to the Bearcats, and West Virginia is 1 – 2.

– Thus, the Big East standings would look like this: 7.) Cincinnati, 8.) Seton Hall/UConn, 9.) UConn/Seton Hall, 10.) West Virginia

Rest easy, Bearcat fans. UC can do no worse than 7th in the Big East if they lose and everyone around them wins their final regular season games. No opening day games for Cincinnati!

Scenario 2: First Round Bye

This one is pretty much answered in Scenario 1. No matter what happens, Cincinnati is assured at least a bye in the first-round of the Big East tournament. I’ll make this simple:

– If Cincinnati wins 1 of the last 3 games and finish 11 – 7, they will probably be a #5 or #6 seed.

– If Cincinnati wins 1 of the last 3 games, finishes 11 – 7, but beats South Florida or Marquette they will 100% have a #5 or #6 seed.

– If Cincinnati throws up a goose egg in the last three games (0 – 3) they will be a #6 but most likely a #7, as I said in Scenario 1.

Scenario 3: Second Round Bye

Let’s start with the facts:

1.) Nobody outside of the top 3 is going to catch Syracuse. Within that group of Marquette and Notre Dame, only the Irish can overtake the Orange for the top spot since they beat them and this assumes that Cuse drops their final two games.

2.) The #1 seed is locked up by either Syracuse or Notre Dame. No other team can touch the top seed.

3.) Seeds 2 – 4 are up for grabs between Syracuse (if ND takes the #1 seed), Notre Dame, Marquette, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida.

4.) Cincinnati owns the tiebreaker over Notre Dame and Georgetown. Notre Dames owns the tiebreaker over Marquette. If Cincinnati splits with Marquette, the Bearcats would own the tiebreaker for that reason.

So, how must the planets align to secure a seed 2 – 4 for UC? For simplicity purposes let’s hypothesize the wins and losses of the Bearcats in the next three games:

– UC goes 3 – 0 finishing 13 – 5 in the Big East, which includes a win over South Florida.

  • UC now owns the tiebreaker over both Georgetown and South Florida. At the very least, the Bearcats are a #4 seed in the conference tourney.
  • If Marquette/Notre Dame lose the rest of their games they would be 12 – 6 and UC would be a #2 seed.
  • UC being 3 – 0 means they also beat Marquette. If the Golden Eagles finish 1 – 2 in this instance, they would be tied with UC at 13 – 5. The Bearcats would have the tiebreaker for common opponents and the Bearcats would own the #3 seed.
  • If Notre Dame also finished 1 – 2, the Bearcats would have the #3 seed for the same reasons.

– UC goes 2 – 1 finishing 12 – 6 in the Big East, which includes a win over South Florida.

  • To get the #4 seed, Georgetown would need to lose at least 1 of its last 3 games.
  • To get the #3 seed, Georgetown would need to lose 2 of its last 3 games but must beat either Notre Dame or Marquette. What makes this complicated is that G-Town plays Notre Dame and Marquette to end the season. Damn you, Georgetown.
  • If Marquette or Notre Dame win 1 of their last 3 games, Cincinnati cannot get the #2 seed.

– UC goes 2 – 1 finishing 12 – 6 in the Big East, but lost to South Florida or UC goes 1 – 2 finishing 11 – 7 and wins or loses against South Florida.

  • At this point, the combination of Cincinnati wins/losses as well as the wins/losses of South Florida, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Louisville is too complicated for my feeble brain to make sense out of. Essentially the farther away the Bearcats get from 3 wins in their final games the less and less likely they will earn two byes in the Big East Tournament.

The Bearcats have been playing phenomenal basketball in the past three games winning all of them. They’ve put themselves in a position to secure at least 1st round bye in the Big East Tournament. But Cincinnati should go for the gold which in this case is sitting back and watching the other Big East teams fight it out for two straight days. In the simplest terms the following goals must be accomplished.

Firstly, this is the most important thing Cincinnati can do to help themselves: BEAT SOUTH FLORIDA ON SUNDAY! While the Bearcats’ seeding isn’t entirely decided by their own play, they can make inroads with a victory against the Bulls. If all else remains equal, UC would own the tiebreaker for the #4 seed with not only Georgetown but now USF. It would be UC’s seed to lose after a win on Sunday.

Secondly, the Bearcats need to beat either Marquette or Villanova. Taking both of them down would be idea because, as I mentioned, Cincinnati would lock up a second round bye no matter what the other teams did. But at 2 – 1 and beating USF and Marquette/Nova the Bearcats need only worry about Georgetown going 3 – 0 down the stretch. The Hoyas face Villanova, Marquette, and Notre Dame to close the season and while they could very well sweep that trio it would be no easy task. UC can probably bank on a 3 – 0 or 2 – 1 record over the final games to get them that two-round bye.