It's time for the battle between rivals Louisville and Cincinnati to take another twist. Both teams come into the game as members of the Big East Conference. As many told the newest members of the Big East, this conference isn't C-USA and many could see a rough year in the early going of the 2005/2006 season. With a 1-4 record in the Big East, Louisville will enter it's match-up with the Bearcats playing for their post season lives. Another loss and the road to Madison Square Garden or an NCAA Tournament bid could be placed out of reach.
But while both teams have seen their ups and downs, it's Louisville that comes into the contest with a national ranking despite starting off with such a poor Big East record. The Cardinals enter not knowing how much time they will get from Taquan Dean. The senior has missed the previous two games with back problems and Coach Rick Pitino hopes to get at least a few minutes from him on the court against Cincinnati.
"I'm not sure he's definitely out," Pitino said. "We're at the point right now where we're a little desperate. He wants to go. We need a shot in the arm against a veteran Cincinnati team that's beaten Marquette on the road. I'm praying he can play."
Bearcats coach Andy Kennedy has seen his team's ups and downs as well. Since the loss of Armein Kirkland the Bearcats new head coach has used a make shift lineup to survive the early part of the Big East schedule thus far.
Despite his team's victory over Rutgers, Kennedy knows his squad's limits will be tested. But while many would expect a Bearcats loss, this team has played well on the road and could pull the upset and enjoy recording their fourth conference victory and setting the stage for an even great chance to earn post season play.
But even without Kirkland, Pitino knows his team will face a battle ready team. "They're a veteran ball club, although they had an injury," Pitino said, referencing the season-ending injury to forward Armein Kirkland. "They're a lot like we were last year with about 7 or 8 basketball players. They've got four seniors and an unbelievable freshman point guard. He's absolutely terrific."
The Bearcats could be hitting the Cardinals at just the right time. In the past three games Louisville has struggled to score as only one player (David Padgett) is hitting above 39 percent from the field. As a team the Cardinals haven't scored 60 points in this span and if Dean can't go many expect their shooting woes to continue.
For Cincinnati and Louisville this game means more than just a rivalry game. With every conference game both teams learn if their hopes of post season play can be reached. If the Cardinals don't start winning soon they may very well miss out on both an NCAA bid and Big East Tournament bid.
For the Bearcats, coming in as an underdog is not all that bad. No one besides Bearcat faithful expected this team to compete for post season honors. But each week Andy Kennedy and his team lean on each other and proved the critics wrong. Can the Bearcats pass this next test? Watch or listen Wednesday night for the answer to this and many other questions about the future of these two clubs.