First impressions are important. Whether you are at a job interview or meeting your in-laws for the first time, that initial evaluation will color how your interaction will develop. The same is true in basketball where the starting five of each team can have a major impact on setting the tone and pushing a game in a certain direction. Obviously the best college basketball games are won throughout the 40 minutes of game time, but starting strong is imperative and you can’t do that without your starters. That group isn’t always your five best players or the five who will close things, but they play an important role in game strategy.
The Crosstown Shootout is often a great college basketball game. The Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers will not stop going full-speed until the final whistle blows. The guys on the floor at that time will more than likely have a greater say on the final result, but the starting lineups will give us an indication of where each team stands initially. Here is how those projected lineups stack up.
PG - Justin Jenifer (Cincinnati) vs. Quentin Goodin (Xavier)
Jenifer’s role on the team has always been as a complimentary player. His career scoring average (3.7 PPG) across 105 games makes that clear. The 6’1” guard’s greatest talent is his ability to keep the offense moving fluidly, whether its by dropping dimes or making smart passes that allow the Bearcats to build up to a better look. Jenifer is continuing to do that this season, leading the team in assist percentage (28.6). What has made him an important player despite meager counting number stats is his efficiency. He doesn’t turn the ball over and is a good shooter from three (40.9 percent this season), which has helped inflate his offensive rating to a team-high 129.8. He shares the point guard mantle throughout the game with senior Cane Broome and freshman Logan Johnson, but when the game starts, its Jenifer toting the ball up the floor.
Many of these starting position designations are more for convenience than actual identification, but Goodin fits the point guard mold fairly well. He leads the team in assist percentage (22.7) and usage rate (25.4 percent), so he will consistently have the ball and be on the lookout for cutting finishers and open shooters. He has has decent size (6’4”) for a backcourt player and he can use that to get his own shot, as he ranks second on the team in scoring (12.3 PPG). Volume is more the cause of that than anything else, as he is averaging a team-high 12.7 field goal attempts per game, but he has been struggling to find a shooting rhythm (.326/.243/.704). Regardless, he is a talented scorer and passer that pushes the pace for the Musketeers.
Goodin could very well be the best player on the floor for either team. That is if he can make shots consistently.
SG - Jarron Cumberland (Cincinnati) vs. Paul Scruggs (Xavier)
This is more of a nominal role for Cumberland, who spends a great deal of time with the ball in his hands and does much more than shoot. The leading scorer among anybody playing in this game (15.3 PPG), Cumberland’s usage rate (32.3 percent) is more akin to that of a shoot-first point guard and illustrates that the offense runs through him. He was ice cold his last time out (3 points, 1-for-5 shooting), but still has deep shooting range, the strength to finish inside and an improving ability to scan the floor and feed open shooters. In fact, Cumberland’s playmaking work has risen considerably this season (22.3 assist percentage), which is a very good thing considering how often he dictates what the Bearcats do on offense.
Cumberland may have the height advantage on Scruggs, but the sophomore guard is the team’s best perimeter defender (104.6 defensive rating) and is Xavier’s best bet for stopping UC’s top scorer. Scruggs is not to be forgotten on offense either. As one of five Musketeers averaging in double figures prior to their game on Wednesday, Scruggs can finish around the rim and has some touch from beyond the arc, making 37.5 percent of his three-point tries. He also knows when to defer and make the extra pass, averaging 3.4 assists per game.
Cumberland’s scoring prowess gets him the nod over Scruggs’ jack-of-all-trades approach.
SF - Keith Williams (Cincinnati) vs. Kyle Castlin (Xavier)
We are watching Williams break out in real time. He has a chance to prove just how much he has improved from his freshman season against Xavier. Williams is not your typical three and D wing, but he does excel in both areas. He’s shooting 41.7 from beyond the arc with a defensive rating of 86.1, ranking him fourth on a defensively dominant UC squad. He is an effective secondary scorer on the first unit and takes a lot of pressure off of Cumberland, something he did exceptionally well with 15 points against UNLV.
Castlin is someone asked to fill the gaps in the starting lineup. He isn’t a potent scorer, but the graduate transfer from Columbia is making 61.1 percent of his two-point tries and 36.4 from three-point range. He is also a pretty solid rebounder from the backcourt, but his overall defensive profile isn’t that impressive.
Williams is a budding star while Castlin is a perfectly satisfactory role player.
PF - Trevon Scott (Cincinnati) vs. Naji Marshall (Xavier)
Scott is a player UC head coach Mick Cronin really trusts. The 6’8” junior is playing the most minutes per game of any Bearcat (30.4) and he’s filling that time with a lot of great production. Formally an inconsequential offensive threat, Scott has become the Bearcats’ best scorer from the frontcourt (9.6 PPG, 56.6 true shooting percentage). His range is still iffy, but he is taking enough threes to keep teams honest and spread the floors for guys who slash like Cumberland, Jenifer and top reserve Cane Broome. Aside from his scoring work, he can guard multiple positions and clean the glass, making him a versatile player from start to finish.
Marshall is a multi-talented forward who will be a challenge for Scott and any other Bearcat tasked with guarding him. A textbook box-score stuffer, Marshall leads the team in points (13.1 PG) while adding 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game. If there’s a weakness to his game its his inconsistent three-point shooting. He is making only 25 percent of his tries despite putting up four per game. When he works closer to the basket, he is much more difficult to stop, shooting 61.2 percent on twos. If he can find more efficient ways to pour in buckets, he will be one of the best two-way players on either side.
Marshall hit threes at a better frequency last season. Even without that, he does more things at a higher level than Scott, although perhaps not as much as the common fan might assume.
C - Nysier Brooks (Cincinnati) vs. Tyrique Jones (Xavier)
UC’s defense is predicated on limiting easy shots. Protecting the rim is the key ingredient of that recipe and Brooks serves as executive chef. He is blocking 1.4 shots per game with an 8.6 block percentage. At 6’11”, the Philadelphia-native moves well and knows when to attack or lend help when an opponent drives. Like Scott, Brooks has — partially by necessity — become a more versatile player this year. While he’s not suddenly spacing the floor with long-range shots, he is using his length and positioning to be a better rebounder and despite a low volume of chances, his offense has been perfectly reliable.
Brooks is going to have a hard time securing rebounds against Jones, who works the boards at an elite level. He is averaging a team-high 9.3 rebounds per game and his dominance can be found on both ends of the floor. Consider this: his offensive rebounding rate (23.2 percent) is higher than the total rebounding rate of every Bearcat except Eliel Nsoseme (23.8 percent). In addition to his next-level glass cleaning, Jones is a good shot-blocker (1.0 BPG) and a strong defender overall. In fact, he is the only Musketeer with a defensive rating below 100. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also netting 10.9 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 63.2.
In a battle of two rim-protecting bigs, Jones’ superior rebounding skills win out.
All stats were accurate prior to UC’s 78-65 win over Northern Kentucky on Dec. 4.