By Andy Mac Williams, 11/30/2017

They(the sober adults in the room-the shadowy joy killers always lurking in dark corners-the politically correct crowd) tried to suck all the emotion and drama out of the annual XU-UC game back in 2012 in the wake of the stupid fight. Some wanted a cooling off period-an hiatus-a cessation of hostilities. So we compromised-moved the game to sterile US Bank Arena and changed the name to Classic from Shootout(the name I gave XU-UC before the Byron Larkin-Roger Mc Clendon game in 1985. In 2015 we had the Crosstown Shootout name restored-returned to campus arenas and it's been off to the races ever since in terms of drama and entertainment value and emotion. The thrill factor instantly re-appeared at the Shoe(or whatever they call it now?) in February 2015. XU was established as a huge underdog. The Muskies rallied twice in the final minute-got a career game from underrated PG Dee Davis (16 points-5-5 three pointers-8 assists) and Frosh Trevon Bluiett cooly canned two late free throws as Xavier posted the 59-57 road victory.

December 2016 the Shootout finally returned to Cintas Center after a four year siesta. X was favored and won 65-55 popping a 1-3-1 zone late to help bring home the "W". Myles Davis was MVP. Edmund Sumner rattled the rim with a monster tomahawk dunk. January 2017 in Clifton UC sold the game out. XU led at the half as Trevon Bluiett dropped 40 points total with an amazing show of shooting efficiency. UC roared back after halftime and styled to an 86-78 win. They were better. They were more physical. They played harder. They made the most of the home court.

Xavier had problems. Myles Davis was finally kicked off the team. Sumner had a torn labrum in his shoulder. Excuses!! Excuses!! Chris Mack boiled the Shootout debacle down the best:"We got punked on the glass and in the paint." he stated starkly and accurately. Here's the game expressed in one stat!! Xavier made 7 of 28 2 point FGs(25%) while the Bearcats crushed it(22-37 from inside the arc) with 9 blocked shots. UC triggered 37 free throws to XU's 23. Part home court advantage. Part rock and roll effort. Whatever!! It was butt ugly.

Coach Mack made note of the punking. So did today's Seniors Bluiett.Macura and O'Mara.There was a silver lining in last season's Clifton tail kicking. Frosh Tyrique Jones and Quentin Gooden were force fed BIG minutes because of foul trouble and inept play by teammates. They both rose to the occasion. Sumner was lost the next game to injury. "Q" became the PG. Mack liked what Tyrique showed him. Jones started at Creighton and owned Blue Jay 7 footer and NBA draft pick Justin Patton. Tyrique became a regular and it was off to the races and the NCAA Elite 8. The atmosphere at fifth-Third Arena was wild-electric-awesome-NCAA Tourney-like even to a Xavier zealot.


So here we go again on Saturday at noon-Cintas Center-FS1!! The game is SOLD OUT. Tickets are commanding huge dollars on the secondary market. The record Cintas crowd is 10,727(for Villanova on 2-24-2016)(Xavier win 90-83 over the #1 Wildcats). Records are made to be broken. UC is unbeaten(7-0) and rated #11 by AP. Their schedule is tissue paper soft for reasons only Mick Cronin can fathom(341st weakest out of 351 NCAA D-1 teams).

With a roster like the Bearcats have assembled why not take it out into the high speed lane and see what it can do?? UC does get real starting at XU. They have Florida,Mississippi State and UCLA coming up rapidly. Cincy sports an awesome state sheet(88PPG-58 points allowed-plus 13 rebounds/game-second best defensive efficiency in the country).

Cronin plays 11 guys. Scoring is balanced with four(Gary Clark-Jacob Evans-Jarron Cumberland and Kyle Washington in double figures) and the two PGs Cane Broome and Justin Jennifer at 9PPG and 8.3PPG. They run and dunk and make three pointers. I'm wondering how many bench guys get significant minutes against a team with a pulse(i.e. Xavier)?

Certainly,Mick will split his PG minutes between Broome and Jennifer. Broome was a scoring Point at Sacred Heart averaging 18 shots/game. It's a transition playing for Cronin. I respect small guards from the NEC because I saw up close and personal what Mo Watson(from Boston University) did to XU playing for Creighton. Broome is good,but it's his first BIG BOY road game. Jennifer's numbers are excellent-3 point shooting-assist to turnover ratio,but again this is his first pressure start and Cintas will be an angry pit even Saturday at noon with all that navy blue paint on the walls now and the stage lighting.

Senior BIGS Kyle Washington and Gary Clark are both loads down low. Clark is a throw back low block guy who plays comsumate team basketball. He's finally calling his own number more around the basket and he's draining many FTs. Clark bailed UC out with a huge game against Buffalo(MAC) when Cincy almost blew the game. Washington is a lethal lefty down on the block. Xavier posts Jones,O'Mara,Kanter and Kaiser Gates have to be very physical with Clark and Washington. Mack will not allow XU to be punked inside again. 6-11 Nysier Brooks will probably need to play a lot of BIG sub minutes.

Young BIGS like Diarra and Nsomeme might find their court time limited to the lay-up line?? How will young players Tre Scott, Keith Williams and Trevor Moore react to Cintas?? Who knows?? I'd guess they'd be non-factors.

The Muskies have two Frosh in their rotation,but XU has already played and won at Wisconsin and learned lessons against Arizona State and played superbly against #16 Baylor. Naji Marshall was vital as 6th man in the Baylor win. He's a tough 20 year old coming off a graduate year at Hargrave Military. Paul Scruggs is the back-up PG. He improved a lot against Baylor and he's very confident. It would be wise for Quentin Goodin to avoid foul trouble and put 30 minutes plus on the score sheet. He was missed against ASU and BU.


Will UC try to pressure Xavier full court at Cintas?? Cronin has the depth-size and speed. He may try to press. We'll see how quickly he comes out of it. UC is much more a man-to-man half court team now versus match-up zone. Xavier has hurt Cincy from outside the arc BIG TIME the last four Shootouts carving up the match-up and winning three of four. Maybe XU's best route is to attack the rim-put up with some blocks and get to the foul line?? That formula buried Baylor after halftime Tuesday. Home court is huge if Xavier starts decently and attacks the rim and rebounds.

UC is 1-6 at Cintas. The win came in 2001 when Muskie star David West sprained an ankle early. Of the 6 UC defeats off Victory Parkway since 2001,four have been close and two have gone to overtime. I don't dismiss UC's talent or the possibility of their winning Saturday. Their talent is considerable and Cronin is a master coach(witness 7 straight NCAA bids), but X has played a much better schedule. They own a considerable home court advantage(34 straight non-conference home wins-87% winning percentage at Cintas-6th best in the nation).

The Muskies proved they can play packline at a high level in the win over Baylor. The Bears numbers were very similar to UC's and BU actually played two good teams(Wisconsin and Creighton) not 7 cup cakes.

Experience counts and Xavier has 4 Seniors ready to take their final bite of the UC apple on friendly rims with their family and girl friends expecting a win. XU brought home a 65-55 win over the Bearcats two years ago by playing the 1-3-1 zone the final 8:30. That might not be possible against this longer better outside shooting Cincy team. We'll see, Mack kept the zone in his back pocket against Baylor,but maybe that's because the packline was working so well??

Bottom line-This is a Xavier Elite 8 NCAA team plus two very good Frosh(Marshall and Scruggs) plus an improving crafty scoring BIG Kerem Kanter and minus one important part Malcolm Bernard.

X is way better than the team that lost in Clifton last January. Xavier will put up a mega battle inside this time. There's so much offensive talent in this game I'm going to predict Xavier 82 Cincinnati 75. It could devolve into a grind it out half court war thus a lower score but XU wins in either scenario.

Here's a weird thought! Both teams are extremely talented. They both make the NCAA Filed of 68 with decent seeds. They are placed in different Regions of the bracket. Come Final 4 time both the Muskies and Bearcats make the Final 4 and play again on a neutral floor in San Antonio in the NCAA Semis. That game would be a toss-up. Saturday's game at Cintas will belong to the Muskies!! or not??

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