Previewing Big East tournament semis

NEW YORK -- Jim Boeheim argued on Thursday afternoon that college basketball players don’t care about distractions; players just want to play, the Syracuse coach said.

He was talking about his own team, which has rolled along despite a police investigation into alleged child abuse by a former Syracuse associate head coach, and an NCAA investigation into Cuse's drug-testing policy.

He could have been talking about all the teams in the Big East tournament semifinals.

Notre Dame lost Tim Abromaitis early to knee injury, a loss that coach Mike Brey admitted at least stunned the Irish early on. And then the Irish shook it off, grabbed the ball and rolled along.

Louisville doubled as a MASH unit, with more players in the training room than on the practice floor. The incomplete and ever-changing lineups meant the Cards took some lumps along the way. Yet here they are.

And then there is Cincinnati, one half of the brawl with Xavier that stained the game and both proud schools. Some wondered if the Bearcats would recover. Instead that embarrassing fight became the team’s turning point.

Now it is March and it is simply about basketball for everyone.

The question isn’t how will you deal. It’s who wants it.


What to watch

The Bearcats at the 3-point line: In the regular season, Cincinnati hopped all over the Orange by draining four quick 3-pointers to build an early lead. Syracuse ultimately won, but that 3-point barrage kept the game tight.

The guards: There are an awful lot of good ones in this game -- Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters and Michael Carter-Williams for Syracuse. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick for Cincinnati. Syracuse’s backcourt has to take care of the basketball as it has all season -- the Orange had only four turnovers against Connecticut on Thursday -- and the Bearcats need their guards to crack the Orange’s zone.

Who to watch

Yancy Gates: The Cincinnati big man had a terrific game against Georgetown in the quarterfinals, helping the Bearcats come back to beat the Hoyas. He was equally effective against Syracuse in the regular season, scoring 16. The caveat: The Orange were without Fab Melo. Gates needs to be tough, especially on the boards, which is Syracuse’s one Achilles heel, for Cincinnati to win.

What’s at stake

The Orange could walk off the court and still claim the No. 1 seed on Sunday. Cincinnati, making its first Big East tournament semifinal appearance, is playing to up its slot on Selection Sunday.

Louisville-Notre Dame

What to watch

The pace: Notre Dame will want to slow it down, and Louisville will want to go. If the Cardinals can somehow push the Irish out of their comfort zone -- which coach Rick Pitino doesn’t necessarily expect -- it’s a huge advantage for Louisville.

The scoreboard: First, to see if it moves. Though the Cardinals prefer to push tempo, they aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. The game against Marquette was more exception than rule. They don’t score a lot of points, nor do the Irish. Second, to see how many overtimes it goes. These teams have played at least one extra stanza in their past four meetings, and six of the past nine.

Who to watch

Peyton Siva: The Louisville point guard did not play well against the Irish in the regular season; he was a nonfactor with only eight points. He’s been sensational in the Big East tournament. In two games, Siva has 32 points, 10 steals and nine assists, and he has played 70 of a possible 80 minutes.

What’s at stake

The Irish have never played for the Big East tournament title, going 0-for-4 in semifinal games -- including last year, when Louisville upset the favored Irish. Louisville, meantime, has played for the title three times since joining the league.