A look at the evening action set for the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.:
What to watch: The gas level in Connecticut’s tank. The Huskies, as the entire basketball universe by now knows, played (and won) five games in as many nights last week in New York City. In the past, such a run in the Big East Tournament hasn’t boded well for the victors -- Syracuse was ousted in the first round and Pittsburgh in the second after both won four games in four nights. On the flip side, the Bison, winners of 23 of their past 25, haven’t had to play a game since March 11.
Who to watch: Gonna go with Kemba Walker here. Though Pittsburgh is the top draw here by seed, no single player will be more watched than Walker. His yeoman’s effort to take Manhattan will long be the stuff of legends. Now the question is, can he take it a step further? Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is a 6-11 big man compared to Jeff Foote of Cornell from a year ago. Only a sophomore, he earned Patriot League player of the year honors after topping the 20-point mark nine times this year. He could be a handful for Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu down low.
Why to watch: In 2005 the Bison entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 14 seed and pulled off one of the all-time shockers: beating No. 3 seeded Kansas in the first round. Who says lightning can’t strike twice? Connecticut has lost just once in the first round under Jim Calhoun -- that was in 2008 -- but Washington D.C. is the site of the Huskies most infamous NCAA defeat. It was here in 2006 that George Mason upset the No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight en route to its improbable Final Four run.
What they’re saying: “Like our coach said, Bucknell doesn’t just come to the tournament to enjoy the ride. We come here to win games." -- Bucknell big man Muscala.
“We all know our roles. Not everyone can score 30 points a game. That’s Kemba’s role." -- Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi on handling the attention devoted to Walker.
Of note: Walker said on Wednesday that one of the biggest benefits he received this season was working with the USA Basketball team. As part of the USA Select Team, Walker trained against the team before it traveled to the World Championships. Walker, defended by the likes of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo, said, “they guarded me like nobody ever guarded me in my life.’’… Freshman Cameron Ayers, son of current NBA assistant coach Randy Ayers and brother of one-time Notre Dame player, Ryan, has 38 points and 13 rebounds during Bucknell’s run to the Patriot League title.
What to watch: Mizzou hasn’t been very good defensively all season but its frenetic style could upset the Bearcats’ comfort zone. On the flip side, Cincinnati has been rock solid defensively all season, their bruising and brute power holding teams to just 59.2 points per game.
Who to watch: How Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon handle the pressure from Mizzou will be key for the Bearcats. As a team, Cincinnati averages 14.5 turnovers per game, a number they have to keep in check in this game. Kim English's recent performance has coincided with the Tigers’ late slide. He is just 9-of-37 in his past five games. Missouri needs English to be a legitimate threat and a productive scorer to get its game back in order.
Why to watch: The slumping Tigers, who have lost four of their past five games, were ranked as high as eighth in the country. This team isn’t your typical No. 11 seed. Missouri can be either disruptive or disastrous on the defensive end and depending on which team shows up will dictate how this game goes. Cincinnati, on the other hand, rides a late-season push back to the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats won five of their last six to secure a bid.
What they’re saying: “Being here is big for me. I’m from Cincinnati and when I was recruited there people thought I’d be the guy to take them to the NCAA Tournament. It went from that to people saying my career was over. I got booed in my gym and now everyone is smiling at me in my home gym.’’ -- Yancy Gates on his roller coaster ride to the NCAA tournament.
“At this time of year, everyone’s record is 0-0. What you’ve won, lost, your ranking, all of that doesn’t matter. It’s about survive and advance.’’ -- Marcus Denmon on weathering Missouri’s late-season slide.
Of note: Cincinnati has not lost to a non-conference opponent all season. The Bearcats are 13-0 against non Big East teams. … The West Region has been kind to Mizzou. The past two times the Tigers were pushed toward the West Coast, in 2009 and 2002, Missouri rolled to the Elite Eight. ... In 2002, the Tigers were an unheralded 12 seed.