Get your torches and pitchforks out. Prepare to go to war. It's us versus them. You are either with us or a no-good, yellow-bellied coward. It's Cincinnati versus Xavier and there is no game on the schedule that means more. Sure, the Bearcats want to win every American Athletic Conference game and knock off Iowa State later this month, but losses to Xavier do more than dampen holiday spirits. They ruin whole seasons.
But how did we get to this point? Just being located near each other cannot be enough to spark a rivalry that has drawn more than a few drops of blood.
Our story begins where so many do, in the dusty annals of history. In the first game ever held between Cincinnati and Xavier (then St. Xavier College), the Musketeers squeezed out a 29-25 triumph. The game was held at Schmidt Fieldhouse during the building's first year in existence. Boyd Chambers, who was born during the Arthur administration, was the head coach for the Bearcats.
That first contest didn't breed a yearly series. That didn't come until more than a decade later when, after another Xavier victory in 1943 (groan) the two squads met for the third time, this time on Feb. 27, 1946.
The Early Years
It was on that late February day that Cincinnati vanquished the evil from Xavier for the first time, picking up a 53-39 triumph, once again at Schmidt Fieldhouse. This wasn't exactly the battle of ranked opponents we have to look forward to this Saturday, however, as Cincinnati finished at 8-13 that season and the Musketeers had only three wins on the ledger.
But that matchup is significant because it marked the beginning of this annualized series. It was also the season before Cincinnati entered the Mid-American Conference. You read that right. The Bearcats used to take part in a little MACtion back in the day. Led by John Wiethe, they won five-straight regular season MAC titles and even stepped into the national rankings a few times. Xavier wasn't nearly as exciting, remaining an independent far longer, failing to join a conference until 1979. (Makes sense. Who would want to associate themselves with Xavier?).
During the Fiethe years, Cincinnati played Xavier twice a year and more often than not the results were split. However, Cincinnati owned the rivalry for much of the 1940s and 50s, going 12-7 against Xavier from 1946-1956.
George Smith was the coach on the tail end of the decade, but it was his later work with the Bearcats that began a long run of success for Cincinnati, not only against the fools at Xavier, but against the entire college basketball world. From 1958 to 1963, the Bearcats were graced with such greats as Oscar Robertson (maybe you've heard of him), Paul Hogue, Ron Bonham and Tom Thacker. They also made it two five-straight final fours and won a pair of national championships. Not a big deal, but kind of a big deal.
Meanwhile, Xavier was busy building its own resume. In 1958 it won the 1958 NIT title and it had a pair of All-Americans in Hank Stein (1958, second-team) and Steve Thomas (1964, first team), who scored 45 points in a 94-92 loss to Cincinnati in his All-American year. Awww. How cute.
As you might have guessed, this place in time led to a huge run of victories for Cincinnati, which took 12-straight against Xavier from 1957 to 1967, although the teams stopped squaring off twice a year in 1957. The dominance did not end in the 60s and 70s, as the Bearcats only lost two times to Xavier, each time by a single point, between 1957 and 1979.
While Xavier was forgettable in the overall scheme of the rivalry at this time, it did own some of the more memorable moments, as it's 72-71 win in 1968 came on a last-second shot from John Zeides and the 66-65 victory in 1971 was made possible by two free throws from Bob Fullarton. Plus, it was during this era that the first example of emotions exploding occurred, as a scuffle between Xavier's Joe Pangrazio and Cincy's Raleigh Wynn involved the crowd and a crutch.
The Dark Ages
I guess we have to talk about the 80s now.
By 1979, Xavier finally got it's act together and joined a league, jumping into the Midwestern City Conference (which eventually became the Horizon League). It was the start of some big things for the X, which made five NCAA Tournaments during the 80s and used that success to launch themselves onto the national radar. With a consistent All-American threat in Byron Larkin, the decade belonged to the Musketeers, winning seven of 11 meetings from 1979 to 1990.
Those 10 years were difficult ones for the Bearcats, who had four losing seasons in the decade, including the 3-25 disaster of 1984, the first season under Tony Yates. Even if they were run off the court by more teams than they would care to admit, the Bearcats still managed to put up incredible fights against Xavier, even in losing efforts. Of those 11 games I mentioned earlier, only three were decided by double digits and five were decided by four points or less, including a 90-88 overtime win for Xavier in 1990.
The Highs and Lows of the 90s
Here's where things really started to get good. In 1989, not only was Taylor Swift born, Bob Huggins also ushered in a brand new era of Cincinnati basketball. He, along with Pete Gillen at Xavier, also upped the ante in the Shootout, helped propel it to the lava-hot levels of hate that now permeate the rivalry.
In Huggins first Crosstown Shootout, Xavier gave him a cold welcome, claiming a 90-88 win on a 3-pointer from Jamal Walker with seven seconds to play. It was the first of a number of notable battles between the 'Cats and the Musketeers during Huggins' reign.
By 1992, Huggins had built Cincinnati into a national powerhouse and his team did not take any pity on Xavier when it faced off during that campaign. Terry Nelson guaranteed a win beforehand and the Bearcats rolled to a 93-75 triumph during the team's most recent Final Four run.
The animosity between the teams and coaches continued to fester until the 1994 contest. After falling in overtime to Xavier (ugh), Huggins refused to shake Gillen's hand after the game, causing Gillen to scream like a child who dropped his ice cream cone. If you thought the hate between the two programs was all smoke and mirrors before that, you couldn't possibly maintain that thought after seeing that interaction, or lack thereof if you want to get technical.
Unfortunately, there was no rematch, as Gillen left for Providence the next spring, but Huggins got a new rival in Skip Prosser. It was during Prosser's reign that Xavier twice toppled a No. 1 ranked Cincinnati squad, a memory we would all rather forget here at Down the Drive. There was the Lenny Brown shot game in 1996 and then the Kevin Frey foul shots that did the Bearcats in in 1999.
Xavier's Reign and The Brawl
That win in 1999 began the long reign of terror for Xavier, which has stretched all the way to last season. Over the last 15 meetings, the X has come out on top 10 times, including three-straight from 2007-2010 and the last two in a row.
However, the last decade or so of the rivalry has been characterized by one single event known as The Brawl. The game itself was far from hotly contested, with No. 8 Xavier blowing out Cincinnati 76-53, but that is not what sticks in people's minds. Instead, it was the bench clearing rumble that erupted near the end of the game. UC forward Yancy Gates landed a punch on XU's Kenny Frease, Mark Lyons uttered the infamous "zip 'em up" quote and in the end, eight players were suspended.
Cincinnati got it's revenge the next year, winning 60-45 at U.S. Bank Arena, but Xavier has won the last two matchups, including last year's 59-57 heart-stopper.
On Saturday, a new chapter in this long and clearly storied rivalry will be written. Stop me if you've read that line before. Oh, you have? Well then I'll just stop here. There isn't anymore build up needed. We all know there's more than just a single basketball game on the line on Saturday. #BeatX