After Cincinnati's upset of Syracuse in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, the final will be the battle of the Ohio River, as Cincinnati faces nearby Louisville in the Big East Championship Saturday night (9:00 p.m., ESPN) in a surprising turn of events on Friday. Louisville beat Notre Dame 64-50 to advance, but the obvious story was Cincinnati knocking off top-seeded (and No. 2-ranked) Syracuse 71-68. The Bearcats had a huge first half, mounting a shocking 34-17 lead with after the first 15 minutes of play by piling up three-pointers, then ultimately holding on as Syracuse clawed its way back into the game.
Down The Drive, SB Nation's Cincinnati blog, is understandably ecstatic:
This team is magical. They haven't been magical for the entire year. Even the run after the brawl didn't feel like this. I don't know if this team is good enough to win a national title, or live up to the lofty history of those that came before them. But I do know this. I wouldn't trade this team for anyone. And I wouldn't trade anything about this season for anything. Without the low you can't have the high. And you can't get much higher than this. Unless UC finishes the deal tomorrow. That would be higher.
Louisville and Cincinnati aren't supposed to be the class of the Big East -- that was Syracuse and Marquette, both now gone -- but here we are. Cincinnati has now beaten Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown in its last three games, and is now a force to be reckoned with despite dubious early-season losses to Presbyterian, Marshall and St. John's (not to mention its 23-point loss and brawl against Xavier). Louisville, meanwhile, knocked Marquette out of the tournament.
The outcome of the championship game doesn't have any grand implications, beyond bragging rights -- Louisville and Cincinnati are going to the NCAA Tournament regardless, and so are the teams they knocked out in the semifinals. But the Bearcats have become a big story, and Louisville has a big upset of its own to its credit.
For more on Big East basketball, check out Big East Coast Bias.