Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
WASHINGTON, D.C. –– With 11 Big East teams in the Big Dance, it was only a matter of time before two of them squared off.
Now the tournament will get its first All-Big East matchup after No. 6 Cincinnati routed No. 11 Missouri, 78-63, in a second round Southeast Regional game before 17,706 at the Verizon Center.
The Bearcats (26-8) will face No. 3 UConn (27-9) Saturday night at approximately 9:40 p.m. No. 1 Pitt will face No. 8 Bucknell at 7:10.
Three of the four teams remaining here are from the Big East.
“We saw how early we could play another Big East team and we kind of laughed about it,” said Yancy Gates, who led Cincinnati with 18 points, including two 3-pointers that doubled his season output. “UConn, they’re hot right now. I don’t know how fresh they are. I figure if we can hold the young guys we should be OK.
“Kemba Walker is going to do his thing. But once the young guys get going that’s when they really get in a groove and get beating up on teams.”
The Big East tournament champion Huskies advanced with an 81-52 blowout of No. 14 Bucknell in which freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith combined for 33 points and Walker had 18 points and a UConn NCAA tournament record 12 assists.
UConn beat Cincinnati, 67-59, in the only meeting of the season Feb. 27 at Fifth Third Arena.
“I think our guys were overconfident because we had swept UConn the year before,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said.
“Our guys are definitely going to have more respect for their personnel, I think.”
Still, Cronin said he would rather not play a Big East team for a 21st time this season.
“The Big East is brutal,” he said. “We’ve already played 20 of them, 18 [regular-season] and two in the conference tournament.
“You’d like to avoid it, and I understand the tournament committee would like to avoid it too but obviously it’s unavoidable in certain situations.”
Cronin said UConn coach Jim Calhoun called him earlier this week and the two men straightened out their differences.
At least one Big East coach did not vote for Walker for first-team All-Big East honors, and Calhoun had publicly implied that Cronin was that coach, suggesting it was because Walker chose UConn over Cincinnati out of Rice High School.
“We’re both big fans of each other,” Cronin said of Calhoun.
“He knows now I love his player and I voted for his player.”
The Bearcats last won an NCAA tournament game exactly six years ago to the date – a 76-64 decision against Iowa that was Bob Huggins’ last victory at the school.
“He never coached in the Big East at Cincinnati,” Cronin said of Huggins.
“I’m never gonna be Bob Huggins. He had a great run. The reason Cincinnati is in the Big East is because of Bob Huggins.
“I’m really comfortable being Mick Cronin..My game plan is to win games, graduate players, enjoy my job, enjoy doing it and try to get my team better every year.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Thursday that Cincinnati athletic director Mike Thomas had spoken with Cronin and his agent about a contract extension.
Cronin has already received one extension since being hired in 2006 and is under contract through 2014. Thomas told the Enquirer the discussions have been preliminary, with the length of a new contract yet to be determined.
“I’m honored to be the coach at the University of Cincinnati,” Cronin said. “As long as I’m the coach at Cincinnati I look it as a great honor growing up a Bearcat fan.
“I’m home. I get to spend time with my father and my brother. Very few people get to coach at home and at their alma mater.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.