We are less than two hours away from tip-off for this year’s Crosstown Shootout, which pits the No. 11 Cincinnati Bearcats against the No. 21 Xavier Musketeers at the Cintas Center. Before the ball gets rolling, we got some inside information on that team in blue from our colleagues at Banners on the Parkway. Here’s what they had to say.
Down the Drive: In the last week, Xavier got torched by Arizona State and beat Baylor. What went wrong against the Sun Devils and what went right against the Bears?
Banners on the Parkway: The ASU game was an exceptionally weird one, as Xavier led by 15 at one point and ended up losing by 16. Putting it down to one thing, their guards were exceptional all game, especially Tra Holder, who went for 40 points. They got red hot from deep, we committed some terrible closeouts as a result, and by the end could not stop them for anything. Against Baylor, they sought to pound it inside more and played at a significantly slower pace, so the extra emphasis on having active hands defensively made a huge difference and Quentin Goodin hassled Manu Lecomte into his worst night of the season. Kaiser Gates stepped up during crunch time after most everyone but JP Macura went missing late against ASU.
DTD: After he scored 40 points against UC last season I’ve been wondering: How do you stop Trevon Bluiett?
BotP: The past two games he has been slowed a bit by back tightness, but when he is on top of his game, there really is not a good way of stopping him. With Macura and especially Gates both stepping up their scoring output this year, the reality is that even if you go all out to keep Bluiett quiet, the supporting cast is going to beat you most of the time. His release is lightning fast and he has a really well developed mid-range game, so he can get shots when he hunts them, but has been pretty content to get his in the flow of the offense so far this year.
DTD: Xavier is first in the country in two-point field goal percentage. Where does that success come from?
BotP: Xavier has a very unselfish group of players this year who are willing to pass up good shots in order to find great ones for their teammates. Additionally, X loves to fast break, which leads to a lot of open court dunks. The two main post players, Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara, are studies in opposing playing styles, with Jones bringing a snarling blood and thunder mentality to post play while O’Mara employs a variety of technically based moves that highlight his soft touch. Typically, if one of these guys isn’t the key to unlock your post defense, the other is.
DTD: What would you say is this team’s greatest weakness?
BotP: Xavier’s glaring area of weakness this year has been in the turnover game, specifically causing them. Goodin has been really solid against top opposition in taking care of the ball, but Xavier has not won the turnover battle since their opening win over Morehead State because they just don’t cause that many. Against a team that rebounds at both ends like UC, they either need to create some turnovers or really limit the damage Clark and Washington do on the offensive glass to win.
DTD: What is the worst-case scenario of how this game goes?
BotP: Obviously a major injury would be a nightmare. Barring that, a performance on the defensive glass like last year’s game would be about as far from ideal as I care to let my mind wander. UC got back 19 of 39 misses and won the second chance points battle 30-4. It was not fun to watch (admittedly you likely enjoyed it) and I can’t imagine a rehash would be any better.
DTD: Which UC player are you most afraid of?
BotP: Gary Clark really started well against us as a freshman and was the catalyst last year by tearing us up on the offensive glass. The man is built like a small SUV and has spent 4 years crushing the glass at both ends, so he is the player that I think has the most potential to ruin things for X.
DTD: Who wins and why?
BotP: I think it is going to be another nip and tuck game, likely to be closer than the 10 point win X got last time it was at Cintas. I think Xavier has been tested more, albeit not against a defense like UC’s, and that plus the backing of the crowd gives them the edge. 71-66 X is my prediction, but I have lost my national champ in the first weekend the last two years, so maybe basketball predictions really aren’t my thing.
DTD: BONUS QUESTION: Who is your favorite member of the Justice League?
BotP: I’m a Batman guy, although I did not enjoy Batman v. Superman (much like Ben Affleck). I don’t know if this is a cop-out or not, but gimmie some Christian Bale-era Batman and I am happy.