NCAA Tournament: Cincinnati, Harvard square off in Spokane on Thursday

SPOKANE, Wash. — Sweet 16 or bust.

That's the mindset of many University of Cincinnati fans after it was announced Sunday night that the fifth-seeded Bearcats will open their NCAA Tournament run against No. 12 Harvard on Thursday night. The East Region game is in Spokane, Wash.

The defensive-minded Bearcats (27-6) tied for the American Athletic Conference regular-season title with Louisville and had a 15-game winning streak earlier in the season. But after a short-lived run in the conference tournament, UC's stock dropped a bit, setting up a notorious 5-12 matchup with the Crimson.

From 1985 to 2013, No. 12 seeds have bettered their lower-ranked opponent on 41 occasions. It happened three times last season alone.

Harvard (26-4),which will make its third straight trip to the tournament, was the first team to clinch its berth by winning the Ivy League's regular season title. The league does not have a conference tournament.

The Crimson comes into the NCAA tournament on an eight-game winning streak. Junior Wesley Saunders leads Harvard with 14 points per game.

Despite Harvard's success, the path to the Final Four for the Bearcats sits well with fan Adam Monk, who attended a bracket reveal viewing party at Fifth Third Arena on the university’s campus Sunday night.

Monk believes it has been a great season so far but he expects his favorite team to make some noise in the Big Dance.

"I've been happy with the season thus far. It's been fun to watch them, fun to see all the sellouts. But I think they could definitely be a Sweet 16 team this year and hopefully Elite Eight, haven't seen it in a while," he said.

In order to do that, they’ll have to knock off the Crimson and then Michigan State, the No. 4 seed in the East and a black sheep pick to win it all.

Regardless of the potency of the Big Ten team’s attack, longtime UC fan Dave Beran believes the Bearcats’ defense can neutralize what the Tom Izzo-led squad does on defense and on the glass.

"We've got Michigan State, big scoring team. We're a great defensive team. We can handle Michigan State, they can't take our defense," he said.

They'd likely play the winner of the No. 1 Virginia/No. 8 Memphis game in the Sweet 16 if they beat the Spartans.

In order to get there, though, Mick Cronin's boys need to get their act together for Harvard. UC is 5-4 since Feb. 8 after finding themselves with a top-7 ranking earlier in the season.

While many fans have dreams of cutting down the nets at the Final Four in Dallas, Beran is trying to temper his expectations. He'd still like to beat MSU, though.

"I think if they get into the Sweet 16 I'll be satisfied, so that means get beyond Michigan State so I'll be fine," he joked.

For fans like Marcus Houston, who attended the viewing party in Clifton with his red-and-black-clad son, just making it to the tournament and being able to watch his team on a national stage is something worth celebrating.

“I wouldn’t be disappointed if they didn’t make the Sweet 16. I’m just happy they’re there,” he said. "I think they can go pretty far, but it's been a great season."

RELATED: See the bracket breakdown

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