Crosstown Shootout Preview

Well folks it’s that time of again in the Queen City, we are just one week away from the Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier. Almost nowhere do you find an event so looked forward to, so synonymous with the city, and so intense like this rivalry game between two basketball power houses. This year’s game is looking to have the potential to be an all-time classic and has a bit of a bizarre picture leading into this game.

Unfortunately, Xavier has won the last 3 meetings of the Shootout and has dominated the rivalry in recent years, with XU winning 14 of the last 20 meetings. Two years ago, UC came oh so close to dethroning the false king of Cincinnati, but fell just short in the final minute. The city is kind of in a Game of Thrones scenario now where you’ve got Xavier sitting on the thrown with no real sort of credentials to back up their crown and UC being the true ruler of the city waiting to gather its forces and strike down Xavier. This year could very well be the year for the Bearcats to rightfully take what is theirs.

Starting with the opponent, Xavier is currently ranked 22nd in the nation and has compiled a record of 13-5. At the begging of the season, Xavier was ranked 7th at the start of the season and expectations were tremendous for the Musketeers who honestly were seen as legitimate contenders for the National Championship. However, Xavier struggled right out of the gate with narrow wins against mediocre at best opponents. They suffered their first loss of the season to the surprisingly strong Baylor bears, but lost their next game to a Colorado team they should have been able to beat without any real issues. These two losses could be attributed to the Musketeers playing without star guard Myles Davis, who was serving a suspension due to criminal charges filed against him by his girlfriend, but has since returned and the Musketeers have still not clicked. After opening Big East play 3-0, Xavier lost its next three games to Villanova, Butler, and Creighton and seemed to be competing in all of three of these games until they weren’t. Against Villanova, Xavier was leading for most of the first half and was seemingly dominating until Villanova took the lead before halftime and schooled Xavier in the second half. Against Butler, XU seemed to have the Bulldogs’ number at the end of the first half with a 31-25 lead, but then totally fell apart in the second half and losing 83-78. Against Creighton, Xavier put on arguably their best performance of the season, but ended up choking in the final seconds gathering 3 offensive rebounds and missing 4 shots with 2 of them being point blank tip in shots that would have potentially won them the game. Creighton lost their best player to an ACL injury in the middle of the game and was still able to squeeze out a victory on Xavier’s home court. This Musketeers team is reminiscent of the Bearcats team from last year with it being full of talented players, but unable to show up and win the big games. Xavier still has not compiled a “true” signature win this season.

Cincinnati is off to one of its hottest starts in the Cronin era with a record of 16-2. Expectations were high for this team due to Coach Cronin talking up how talented this team is both offensively and defensively and the Bearcats have not disappointed. This team is deep in the talent pool and it shows on the court. Cincinnati has been able to adapt and win in different ways throughout the season depending on how the game was going. UC’s biggest win came against the then #19 ranked Iowa State Cyclones, defeating them 55-54 in overtime on their home court. Holding a team like Iowa State to 54 points on their home court turned national eyes to the Bearcats and they haven’t slowed down since. The Bearcats know that some nights, shots just don’t go in and their ability to play through that adversity and still come out on top is impressive. If shots aren’t falling, UC will go to their defense and stop the other team from getting up points on the board and let their defense create their offense by forcing turnovers and bad shots. UC has also shown signs of being a deadly shooting team with several times this season putting up big numbers on opponents and compiling massive hot streaks in games. One huge facet that has improved drastically for the Bearcats has been free-throw shooting. Opening up the season, UC looked to be atrocious at the charity stripe, concerning fans that should games come down to the wire, UC may fall short due to poor FT shooting, but as of late, the Bearcats have been outstanding at the line. This looks like it is one of the most balanced teams that UC has ever produced.

The tables have really changed between these two teams. UC has notoriously always been perceived as a team of thugs and criminals where as Xavier has always been perceived as the team of preppy, rich guys. Currently, not one UC player has gotten in trouble with the law where as a couple Xavier players have embarrassingly gotten in trouble with the law and several students have made the news regarding racist actions. Not a good look for XU. This game could be the turning point the Musketeers have been looking for in order to get themselves back on track, which should worry the Bearcats. Although the Muskies have struggled in this first half of the season, they are still an extremely talented team that can go off at any moment. The Bearcats, though, aren’t like any team Xavier has faced this season, the balance on this team, deep bench, crippling defense, and ability to shoot the lights out makes this UC team a very big threat to Xavier’s season. Both teams are going to come out swinging in this game, with no love lost between the two. If this game is a back and forth, grind it out battle, I see UC coming out on top in this one. However, even though I have talked up UC’s ability to shoot the ball, Xavier, while being horrendous shooting the long ball this season, still has that ability with all the shooter’s on their team to knock down jumpers. If it becomes a back and forth shootout, it could be tough for the Bearcats but they have the ability to answer if needed. Another big factor in the game could be the emotions from players. As evidence from the brawl several years ago, This rivalry is heated and can get players emotional. I see the Bearcats having an advantage here due to the apparent immaturity among the Xavier players which could cause them to break.

Here are some potential keys to a Bearcats victory over their crosstown rivals:

  • KEEP MAKING FREE-THROWS! If this game truly comes down to the wire, Xavier has shown to be horrendous at the line where as Cincy has shown a ton of improvement.
  • POUND THE GLASS! Keeping Xavier from gathering second chance opportunities and gathering offensive boards for Cincinnati will be huge for the Bearcats to get the offense rolling.
  • GET WASHINGTON AND CLARK INVOLVED EARLY! I feel like UC has a tremendous advantage when it comes to their big men. Getting Kyle Washington and Gary Clark to assert themselves early and get points in the paint and draw some fouls will frustrate Xavier throughout the game without a good defensive match up to stop them.
  • DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH THE JUMPER, BUT MAKE THEM WHEN THEY’RE OPEN! It’s no secret that UC is not a three-point shooting team, but some times it seems like UC thinks it in when the ball starts to go in. That’s all fine and good if they’re making them, but they can’t fall in love with them because Xavier will be shooting contested threes which is some thing Cincy doesn’t do let alone well. Xavier is also not a good three ball team, but if Cincy can iso a shooter beyond the arc and knock down the wide open shots, Cincy will be in good shape.
  • WATCH OUT FOR MACURA! While every sports analyst seems to be all over Bluiett, Sumner, and Davis of Xavier, I feel like Xavier’s biggest threat is JP Macura. Sure Bluiett, Sumner, and Davis are dangerous because they can go off at any moment, but Macura is consistent (something the other three are not) and can make big plays. If the game is down to the wire, Macura will be the one with the ball. Cincy has to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t get too comfortable in Fifth Third.
  • Lastly, BRING THE RUCKUS! Cincy has won 19 in a row on their home court and the team feeds off the energy of the fans. There’ll be plenty of Xavier fans there for the game acting like its their court, so the Cincy fans will have to be much louder and give the team life to bury the Musketeers and reclaim the throne.

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