Before we begin, you new readers to this blog should know that I will never ever ever never ever call this game the “Crosstown Classic”. It weenieizes* an intense rivalry and I just won’t ever call it that. To me, this game was and always will be the Crosstown Shootout.
*Maybe a word? Nope. Definitely not a word.
Tomorrow marks the 81st meeting between the Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers on the basketball court but only the second time these teams have played each other at US Bank Arena. The game was of course moved downtown after the Crosstown Slugfest at the Cintas Center in 2011. I was at first opposed to the idea but given the UC turnout last season, mainly in comparison to the lackluster Xavier crowd, I immediately did an about-face. Plus the Bearcats won that meeting 60-45, which definitely gave me good vibes about US Bank Arena as a viable option for this series.
Let’s get to the game.
The Musketeers haven’t so much “exploded” out of the gates this year as they have hobbled out of the gates like a horse with a broken leg. Xavier is just 7-3 this season with losses to Iowa, Tennessee, and USC in the Battle for the Atlantis. Obviously those teams are no slouches but most recently it took overtime for the Musketeers to beat Bowling Green and they won by just three over Evansville on Tuesday.
The issue is lack of depth. Semaj Christon is getting it done but doesn’t have enough weapons around him to keep the scoring going when he’s catching a breather on the bench. Chris Mack has started nine different players this season in an attempt to find a combination that works. It’s been a mixed bag of success. Statistically the Musketeers have been just average this season in points scored (74.8, 159th) and allowed (65.2, 52nd) this season as well as assists (15.2, 60th) and rebounds (30, 148th). That’s not going to cut it in the Big East.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Semaj Christon (#0): This one’s easy. The sophomore guard does more than his fair share of the scoring for Xavier, pacing the team with 16.2 points per game. He’s an extremely athletic leader of this team who has the ability to knock down mid-range and long-range jumpers as well as drive to the rim. Every Bearcat on the court, front to back, needs to keep an eye on him as he could take over the game if he wants to.
Justin Jackson v. Matt Stainbrook (#40): Xavier’s main threat in the low post is Western Michigan transfer and Comic Con Participant of the Year candidate Matt Stainbrook. The 6’10”, 263 lbs center takes up a lot of space in the paint and is quite frankly a mismatch for Justin Jackson. Stainbrook will test JJ every time he touches the ball. The Cincinnati power forward needs to make sure he stays out of foul trouble because, as we witnessed last week again New Mexico, the Bearcats have little margin for error in the low post. If Jackson is relegated to the bench for long periods of time, Stainbrook could eat the Bearcats alive in the paint. I mean that literally and figuratively. Seriously, have you seen this guy?!
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
The Musketeers are too top-heavy, in that they rely on Christon and Stainbrook to an extent to carry this team. Not so with the Bearcats. On any given night they could get 15-20 points from Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, Justin Jackson, and potentially Troy Caupain. There’s much more balance and depth on Cincinnati’s roster, which will allow Mick Cronin to wear down Chris Mack’s squad over the course of the game. Plus UC’s defense has been otherworldly this season. Like all Crosstown Shootouts, this one will be a hard fought game but I’m picking the Bearcats tomorrow night in a relatively low-scoring contest.