By: Craig James
The second best day of the year in Cincinnati is almost upon us. The Crosstown Shootout comes in right behind Reds Opening Day. 2.4 miles separates the campuses of UC and Xavier. Residents of Greater Cincinnati pick a side in this game, even if they don’t have an affiliation with either school. Households are often divided. Mine is, my sister (who attended Xavier), my mom and I are all Musketeer fans. Meanwhile, my dad is a UC fan, thinks Bob Huggins is the greatest coach of all-time, and does not like Xavier because my sister’s tuition was too expensive. It’s a day Cincinnatians circle on their calendars as soon as the schedules are released.
We all know the history of this rivalry and the arguments all UC and Xavier fans have. They go something like this…UC fans will point out they are ahead in this rivalry by a wide margin. Xavier fans will bring up the fact that the Musketeers have flat-out dominated the rivalry the last decade as they have won 7 of 10 recent Crosstown Shootouts. Musketeer fans will continue and mention all of their NCAA Tournament runs they have had in recent memory. UC fans will then proceed to stop Xavier fans in their tracks and mention they have never been to a Final Four and or won a National Championship. Xavier fans then come back with “yeah that was like 60 years ago for you.” It’s a never-ending argument between both sides. We can all agree on something though, Skyline Chili is awesome. Personally I’m a two chilitos with cheese, spaghetti, and chili inside, and two chili cheese sandwiches, no onions, no mustard (proceed to fill the sandwiches with crackers), and a water. Delicious meal. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Enough small talk…let’s talk basketball.
Xavier is 8-1 against Cincinnati when the Musketeers are ranked. Last year was the first loss they suffered in the Shootout as a ranked team. The Musketeers have yet to lose when they are ranked and playing at home in this rivalry game. They’re 3-0 at Cintas Center and were 3-0 at the soon to be demolished Cincinnati Gardens. Let’s re-live the greatest Xavier moment in Cincinnati Gardens history.
Saturday’s Shootout will be the third straight season and fourth time in Shootout history where both teams are ranked. Xavier is 3-1 in those meetings. They lost last year’s Shootout 86-78. Hard to believe the Muskies lost last year’s game with the performance Trevon Bluiett had. One of the best performances in Shootout history. He had 40 points. Bluiett literally didn’t miss in the first half. Xavier was hitting three after three in the first half of last year’s meeting. In the second half, UC held the Muskies to only two made threes and manhandled them on the boards, which was the difference in the game.
Xavier’s big men can’t let that happen again this year. Tyrique Jones needs to have a big game for the Muskies down low. Has a ways to go, but I see him turning into a Jaelen Reynolds type guy for Xavier. Jones, much like Reynolds did when he was in a Xavier uniform, can bring the crowd out of their seats with his two handed jams and blocks into the third row of the seats. The crowd will be LOUD Saturday and a few of these plays by Tyrique Jones will blow the roof off the newly renovated Cintas Center.
The Cintas Center is one of the hardest places to play in college basketball. 34 straight non-conference home game wins, undefeated at home this season and have the 6th best winning percentage at their home court.
The Musketeers come into this year’s game tested. They have played at Wisconsin, Arizona State (neutral court) and at home against Baylor. The Bearcats on the other hand, well this is their first game against an actual opponent. UC has put up impressive numbers in their victories over Guardian Angels 8th grade A team, Our Lady of Lourdes 6th grade B team, St. Ignatius 4th grade A team, and St. Antoninus 8th grade C team.
We know the Bearcats are good; it’s just tough to know right now how good. The Bearcats schedule does get a lot harder, but up to this point they’ve played an absolutely atrocious schedule. Honestly if I were a Bearcat fan I would be pumped to watch my team Saturday as they finally play against another team that knows how to dribble. I’ll be honest I haven’t watched the Bearcats yet this season. 1. Because I don’t get the local access channel they play their games on… what do they play on the CW?!? 2. I enjoy watching quality basketball, that’s why I’m a Xavier fan. Just in case you forgot Xavier’s games are on FS1 and many are nationally televised… I digress…
All my UC buddies are saying this is Mick Cronin’s best team yet… They said that last year too. UC returns some key players from last year. Gary Clark, Kyle Washington, Jacob Evans, and Jarron Cumberland. Cumberland is a flat out stud and hurts us Xavier fans to watch him. He chose to attend UC over Xavier. Can you imagine how good Xavier would be with Cumberland, Macura, Bluiett… oh what could have been. UC also added transfer Cane Broome. A point guard who scored like 45 points a game in the CYO League last year, I mean for Sacred Heart University. Gary Clark, UC senior guard, summarized the Shootout better than anyone this week when he said it’s like your top high school rivalry times 100… Don’t even look at anyone in the stands when we play at Xavier. Clark’s comments are spot on. This rivalry is heated. That’s what makes it so special and meaningful for the Queen City. Having both head coaches from Cincinnati is pretty cool. Mick Cronin and Chris Mack understand how important this rivalry is.
Something to look for early on Saturday is how Trevon Bluiett’s back is holding up. He sat most of the second half against Baylor with a stiff back. As every Shootout is, it’s going to be physical. Keep an eye on Bluiett’s back and if he wears that seatbelt/heating pad deal when he’s on the bench like he did against Baylor. As Bluiett goes, Xavier goes, they haven’t lost this year when Bluiett is the leading scorer.
The ‘X’ factor (pun intended) for Xavier is Kaiser Gates. It’s tough to call him the ‘X’ factor because he is the third leading scorer on the team; I just wanted to get that pun in there. It has been awesome to see him fully healthy and playing at a high level so far this season. His aggressiveness at both ends of the floor so far this season has given the Musketeers a huge spark. He’s got one of the quickest releases from behind the arc as anyone in the country. If you’re a UC fan and you see Gates knocking down some threes early, be worried, if he is able to make his first couple, he is going to flat fill it up. He’s coming off a career high game vs Baylor on Tuesday night.
Another key to watch for Xavier is Quentin Goodin. When he is in the game the offense flows the way it is supposed to. He was in foul trouble against ASU and we saw what happened there. Paul Scruggs, a freshman, is experiencing the freshman growing pains that most go through. Much like Goodin did when he started running point when Ed Sumner went down. Macura was forced to play some point against Baylor, because once again Goodin was in foul trouble. The offense became stagnant with Goodin on the bench. When Goodin checked back in is when the Musketeers pulled away from Baylor. If Quentin is in foul trouble, it could get ugly For Xavier with J.P. most likely running some point.
The three headed monster of Tyrique Jones, Sean O’Mara, and Kerem Canter, down low for Xavier should give them rebounding advantage. The senior leadership of Macura, Bluiett and O’Mara will carry the Musketeers to victory on Saturday. Death, taxes, and Xavier winning non-conference home games. Those are three things you can count on in life. That doesn’t change Saturday. The newly renovated Cintas Center will be rocking. The attendance record that was set against Villanova a few years ago when they were #1 will surely be broken. UC. Xavier. High Noon Saturday. FS1. Fasten your seatbelts Queen City, it’s going to be a memorable one.
Musketeers 87, Bearcats 82