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The Early Lead
Posted at 01:08 PM ET, 03/09/2012

Big East tournament: Syracuse keeps rolling, Notre Dame seeks a first

The Big East has traditionally held the best conference tournament in the country and so far this year that distinction hasn’t changed. Already Madison Square Garden has seen three overtime games in three days, tying the tournament record set in 1998 and 2011.

The semifinals Friday night promise to be no different, with four teams that have NCAA tournament bids locked up battling for the chance to play Saturday night with the league’s automatic bid on the line. Here’s a preview of Friday’s action:

No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 4 Cincinnati, 7 p.m. EST (ESPN)

This season has been full of distractions for Syracuse, from allegations of child molestation levied at former assistant Bernie Fine to last week’s report that former players in the program had failed drug tests. But through it all, the Orange just keep winning and are poised to be one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

“If things were bothering us we wouldn’t be 31-1. Nothing bothers us. We come ready to play,” Coach Jim Boeheim said after Syracuse defeated Connecticut, 58-55, in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday. “That’s what you should do in life. Everybody gets bothered. Everybody has problems. I’m much more concerned about my wife being mad at me than I am anything else, to tell you the truth.”

The latest obstacle is No. 4 seed Cincinnati, which advanced to the semifinals with a 72-70 double overtime victory over Georgetown on Thursday.

The Bearcats came back from an 11-point deficit in the second half behind a 23-point, eight-rebound performance from center Yancy Gates. Syracuse, meanwhile, is undefeated this year when center Fab Melo is in the lineup. His match-up with Gates could decide who makes it to the final.

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Louisville, approx. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Fighting Irish have never advanced to the Big East tournament finals, but after an ugly 57-53 overtime victory against sixth-seeded South Florida on Thursday, Notre Dame finds itself in the semifinals for the third-straight year. In 2011, the Fighting Irish missed the final because of an overtime loss to Louisville.

The Cardinals may have gotten the most impressive win of this year’s tournament when they defeated No. 2 seed Marquette in the quarterfinals Thursday. The Cardinals forced 26 turnovers in that game, and seem to have recovered after closing the regular season with two losses.

This game will be decided by what team can dictate tempo. Notre Dame Coach Mike Brety wants to methodically work the shot clock on every possession, while Louisville’s Rick Pitino has always preferred when his teams get out in transition.

By Mark Giannotto  |  01:08 PM ET, 03/09/2012

 
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