Pitt should be well rested when it hosts Cincinnati on Saturday. After defeating Rutgers on the road last Saturday, the Panthers have had an entire week off to take a break from the challenging Big East schedule.
While Pitt is playing the rest of this season for mostly NCAA Tournament seeding purposes, the Bearcats are playing to merely get into the tournament. Cincinnati is 18-4 and while that sounds great, the Bearcats haven't exactly been world beaters. The team's best win came against a good, but not great Xavier team and the Bearcats squandered another chance to defeat a good team when they fell to a short-manned West Virginia team last weekend.
For Cincy, it's clearly all about getting that signature win:
"You need those signature wins to get in," Gates said. "I think we still need to go out and get one."
But don't tell that to head coach Mick Cronin:
"I'll tell you what we've got to do," Cronin said, "win games. The only way you win games is to improve. If you win games in this league, they're all signature wins for the most part. We've got plenty of ranked teams on our schedule."
Despite Cronin's statement, Cincinnati might need to win a big game. But here's the thing - they got off to such a good start (15-0) that they might be able to get into the tournament without one. Cincinnati has several challenging games left, but if the Bearcats can win games against DePaul, Providence, and St. John's, they'd end up with a 21-10 record. How do you leave a 21-win Big East team with eight conference wins out of the tourney? Even if those wins came against mostly bottom feeders, I don't think you can.
Pitt's defense may have its hands full in containing power forward Yancey Gates, who averages 11 points and 7 rebounds per game:
"[Gates] is a really good post player. Last year he had a really good game against us," Pitt center Gary McGhee said. "He’s going to be a load inside, so I’ll have to bring my A-game."
Oh yeah, that game last year. Gates was the best player on the court and had a monster game. It was one of the best of his career as he went for 16 points, 14 rebounds, and added four blocks and two steals in Pitt's narrow three-point win.
That game was closer than I expect this one to be. Pitt is a better team this year and Gates doesn't have running mates Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson like he did last season. The Bearcats also have a hard time shooting the ball accurately hitting only 43% of their field goal attempts and with Pitt's defense, I expect them to shut down Cincinnati at home.