"It's a big advantage," Rick Pitino said. "I thought Minnesota had that against us. Mentally it's gigantic but it's something in this league we've had in our favor and this time it's against us. Cincinnati already had an edge with Mick (Cronin) being on our coaching staff and now they've had a week to prepare and devise a game plan."
Though Pitino owns a 9-7 advantage over Cincinnati, the Bearcats squeaked by the Cards last season in Freedom Hall 58-57. Cronin, a former Pitino assistant, knows the Cardinals inside and out.
"It generally makes for low-scoring games because you know each other so well," Pitino said. "Mick's team is very physical. It'll be a very physical game. He uses a lot of our offensive sets but he's put his own things into it to fit their players."
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Cincinnati has won five of its last seven games but fell 85-69 at No. 4 Pittsburgh last weekend. Firmly on the NCAA bubble, the Bearcats could use a signature win over a Top 10 opponent to help their cause.
"I'm sure they're going to throw some new things at us because they've had a week," Pitino said. "This is a very difficult road game. We know it. They're playing very good basketball right now. Mick's got good young players – physical players. (They're) on the bubble of making the NCAA right now."
Cincinnati is led by junior guard Deonta Vaughn. Vaughn leads the Bearcats in scoring (15.7) and assists (4.6). Vaughn is Cincinnati's leading three-point shooter, making 64-of-188 three's coming into the game.
"Vaughn uses screens great and he uses his left hand and his right," Pitino said. "He scores in bunches. So he's tough to play against. He's gotio Meeks ability where he can stop on a dime and release it quickly."
The first of two road games for Louisville – UofL plays at Georgetown Monday night – the Cardinals face a difficult stretch to close out the regular-season. At 11-2, Louisville finds itself in a four-way tie in the loss column atop the Big East standing. With just five-games remaining, every game is important to Louisville's Big East title hopes. Pitino said Friday he thought three losses would win the regular-season Big East championship.
"This is the most difficult part of our schedule right now. We've got three difficult road games and two tough home games," Pitino said. "We're going to go into very hostile environments. I think winning the conference is the most important thing. I think the second most important thing is to get a top four (seed)."
Louisville's shooting has improved the past two games as the Cardinals scored more than 90 points in wins over DePaul and Providence. After shooting just 39 percent against Notre Dame, Louisville shot 59 percent against the Blue Demons and 54 percent against the Friars. In their past two games, Louisville made 27-of-59 three's and handed out 49 assists.
While Louisville's offense has improved, Pitino isn't happy with how his team has rebounded in the past few games. The Cardinals were out-rebounded 48-28 by Notre Dame and 34-26 by Providence. Louisville has been out-rebounded in five of its last seven games.
"Every time we improve in one area we revert in another area," said Pitino. "Our rebounding has been very dismal in our last two performances. We're not getting rebounding out of our five spot. We're not getting any rebounding from our guards."
Pitino would like to see his freshmen centers Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings hit the boards harder. Samuels has had more than three rebounds just once in the Cardinals last nine games, while Jennings failed to grab a rebound against Providence.
"The rebounding puzzles me," Pitino said. "Why our centers can't rebound is beyond me. They're big enough and long enough. It's puzzling. TJ surprises me but Samardo didn't rebound in high school. I thought he be a better rebounder in watching him play. They've adjusted on offense. They just haven't adjusted on defense and rebounding."
"Rebounding is our Achilles heel right now," Pitino added.