Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
When: Noon ET
Watch On: Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Go
All-Time Record: Cincinnati 50-34
Just three miles separate two of the biggest archrivals in college basketball: The University of Cincinnati and Xavier University. The two teams will meet for the 85th time Saturday afternoon in the annual contest better known as the Crosstown Shootout.
The Xavier Musketeers have some hard feelings stemming from last year’s 86-78 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena. Even Trevon Bluiett’s scintillating 40-point night wasn’t enough to lead Xavier to victory
Senior Sean O’Mara spoke about how he felt after the loss to Cincinnati last year, saying, “We all feel it [losses] regardless of what team it is. It’s not something we look forward to or want to experience often... The good thing is we have a chance to play them again... That part of it, there is always that chance for redemption, but at the same time, we’ve been counting down the days pretty much how many days it’s been since what happened last year.”
O’Mara, who will be playing in his fourth Shootout tomorrow, also spoke about the magnitude that this game holds at the pregame media conference. “It’s one of the biggest games of the year,” he said. “Not only is it meaningful just rivalry wise, but it’s meaningful for actually tournament standings later on in the year.”
Grad transfer Kerem Kanter also chimed in on what he has learned about the rivalry saying, “I have the chance to go undefeated against them... and I’m excited for that, but we just have to prepare for that game just like any other game.”
The Musketeers have no easy feat en route to defeating their inner-city rival. However, they may hold an advantage strictly based on their strength of schedule. The Musketeers already have a pair of wins against quality opponents in the Wisconsin Badgers and Baylor Bears under their belt, in comparison to the Bearcats who have yet to play against a Top 25 opponent.
O’Mara seemed to agree with the assertion that Gary Clark is the best overall player on the Bearcats’ roster and he responded stating, “We compare him a lot to some of those guys [Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Baylor’s forwards]. These guys, they play through, which is not necessarily unusual for post players, but something you don’t see as often especially in today’s game.” He continued saying, “Him getting the ball that often and being able to use his body and use his size, especially when he doesn't play the 5 is something that they, I think, really look to exploit on other teams.
Head coach Chris Mack, a Xavier alum in his own right, commented that “Tomorrow is a unique experience. It’s a competitive game...and one that we are going to scratch, fight and claw to try to come out on top.”
Mack commented on the challenge ahead saying, “UC is known for their pressure defense, their changing defense, their full court defenses. It’s no secret, Mick’s [Cronin] kids play really hard. I think you can ask anybody around the country and it's incredible when your guys do what you want them to do and his players certainly do that.”
For Xavier to win the game, Mack believes, “We have to be poised with the basketball and get the shots we want... I think defensively, we have to win the paint. We cannot allow offensive rebounds, we can’t allow multiple deep post touches.”
What to watch for
Will Trevon respond?
I’ve been hoping for Tre to get back to his usual self for the past two games and this is a great opportunity for him to do so. Last year, he dropped 40 against a UC team that returns a lot of its players, so if he can regain his form, Bluiett will have a major impact on the outcome of this game.
To be the best, you have to beat the best
This will be Xavier’s second straight Top 25 matchup. And this one, at least on paper, will be the more difficult of the two with the Bearcats being ranked higher than Baylor. UC presents a challenge for Xavier because of its experience and talent. This game presents a quality chance for both teams to snag a tournament resume-building victory. Other than Clark, the Musketeers once again face Jarron Cumberland, who had a great game in the Shootout last year for the Bearcats. He can be a force both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Rotation taking shape
Chris Mack usually forms a group of around eight guys to be his normal rotation players. It is still early in the season, it looks like the rotation seems to be mostly put in place. The same starters have started since Game 1 and the two bigs, O’Mara and Kanter, along with freshmen Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs get quality minutes and production off the bench. To me, that’s a pretty solid rotation that is built to compete throughout the year.
The hype on this campus surrounding this game is unrivaled. The Shootout doesn’t get as much attention as perhaps some of the other college basketball rivalries like UNC-Duke or Kentucky-Louisville, but this game is as real as it gets and it means a lot to both these schools and the city of Cincinnati. In the end, this game is a battle of two of the nation’s best with the winner having claims to be the king of the Queen City.