(Editor’s note: This is an article started a few years ago and it is an honor to get a chance to continue building on to it).
Welcome to the greatest rivalry in college basketball. You can keep your Duke/North Carolina. The Crosstown Shootout is something entirely different. As the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Xavier Musketeers get set to sort out their long-running differences this Saturday, its time to take a look back.
This is the fourth annual edition of the Updated History of the Crosstown Shootout. It serves as a living document of the Crosstown Shootouts of the past, present and future. Each year a new entry in the canon is engraved, allowing a handy guide for long-time fans and interested newcomers alike.
Prepare to go to war. It’s us versus them. You are either with us or against us. 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, 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 in 2011, 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.
While that was obviously the highlight of the season, it’s also worth noting that the 2011-12 season included a home loss to Presbyterian and ended with the Bearcats only appearance in the Sweet 16 during the Mick Cronin era (9 Tournament appearances).
Cincinnati has won 3 of 7 games since the brawl.
2012-13: Cincinnati got it’s revenge. Revenge for the brawl, revenge for the previous year’s blow out. However you want to view the revenge, they got the win after Xavier had previously won 4 of 5. Bearcats won 60-45 at U.S. Bank Arena. The game was moved off campuses due to the behavior of the players the previous year and a fear of fan aggression.
2013-14: Xavier would win the second game in the U.S. Bank Arena series, 64-47 in 2013.
2014-15: The game returned to campus in 2014 with a dramatic 59-57 Xavier win at Fifth Third Arena.
2015-16: Xavier won their third game in a row against Cincinnati, knocking off the ‘Cats 65-55. Xavier outplayed UC from the start on Dec. 12, 2016. The Musketeers nailed 50 percent of their shots from the floor in the first half and took a 42-26 lead into the break. UC never led in the game and trailed by as many as 18 points. Play in the paint and ball control won the day for the X, which outscored UC 34-24 in the paint, 19-11 in points off of turnovers and 14-8 on second chance points. The win was part of one of the best seasons in Xavier history, as the Musketeers finished 28-6 overall and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That was a tough graph to type. Glad its over.
2016-17: Glory for the Bearcats, who rallied from a 44-36 deficit at halftime to win 86-78 and snap a three-game losing streak to Xavier. In this game, freshman Jarron Cumberland became a Crosstown Shootout legend, scoring 15 points while going bananas in the second half when he made 5-of-7 shots from the floor. Jacob Evans (21 points), Gary Clark (13 points, 11 rebounds) and transfer junior Kyle Washington (12 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) all contributed significantly as well, although nobody on UC was able to figure out Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett, who scored 40 points on 12-of-15 shooting. UC went on to post its second 30-win season in program history, while Xavier finished at 24-14. Unfortunately, the Bearcats’ superior record did not lead to better results in the NCAA Tournament, with UC losing in the second round and Xavier making it to the Elite Eight.
But let’s just remember 2017 as a year UC won the shootout and Xavier didn’t make the Final Four. Wait. That last part is every year.
2017-18: Bluiett may not have scored 40 points, but he still dominated in a Xavier victory, scoring 28 points as the Musketeers improved to 7-1 with an 89-76 win at home. The Bearcats were victims of a excessively sluggish start, falling behind 11-2 before the first five minutes were finished. Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland both tried to shoot the Bearcats back into it after the break, with the former scoring 18 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes. Xavier never budged, however, leading by as many as 17 points.
This was the last Crosstown Shootout for Bearcat favorites like Gary Clark, Evans and Kyle Washington. Clark (14 points, seven rebounds) and Evans both had memorable games, but Washington was held scoreless in 14 minutes, All three would make major contributions to UC’s run to the American Athletic Conference title and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they were upset in the most brutal way imaginable.
Xavier also said goodbye to central characters in the rivalry after the 2017-18 season. Head coach Chris Mack departed for Louisville and Bluiett and J.P. Macura, who shared a less than amicable farewell with UC head coach Mick Cronin, are both off in the NBA now.
In many ways, this Crosstown Shootout was a peak for the rivalry. Both teams were ranked in the top five of the AP Poll at least once during the season and they were each highly-seeded in the NCAA Tournament. Clark was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Evans was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft and Bluiett was a second-team All-American. Star-power and winning basketball were plentiful in this rendition.
2018-19: After losing opening night to Ohio State, Cincinnati entered this game on an 8 game winning streak and were ranked #22. Despite all of that, fans and media were unsure how good this team was at this point in the season.
Xavier came in 6-3, in the first year with Travis Steele as the head coach, following Chris Mack’s departure for Louisville.
Cincinnati led Xavier by 6 at halftime, in a “rock fight” kind of game, leading 28-22. Last year’s team was all about defense and not much offense, so this game pretty much summed up the character of those Bearcats. The final score was 62-47. Xavier shot 35% from the floor and just 20% from three. Amazing considering the success they usually have shooting against Cincinnati.
Bearcats shot 40% from the field, led by Jarron Cumberland’s 19 points and supported by Keith William’s 16 points. Trevon Scott scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Next Chapter
Last year was the first time since Xavier joined the Big East in 2013 that they did not make the NCAA Tournament. It was just the second time since 2006 that they missed it, finishing 19-16.
Cincinnati has hit the reset button in 2019. This feels like a new era for this rivalry between two young head coaches who grew up outside this rivalry. Former coaches Mick Cronin and Chris Mack were both alums of their respective schools. Now John Brannen is in his first year at Cincinnati, and does have local ties having worked at Northern Kentucky the last few years. Travis Steele is in his second year at Xavier and was a long-time assistant there.
2019 will be the final game for Jarron Cumberland against Xavier. The senior has averaged 16.3 points in three games and has a 2-1 record. The last time Cincinnati won 3 out of 4 against Xavier was the early 1990s. No four year player in the last 20+ years has a winning record against Xavier for the Bearcats. Cumberland and Trevon Scott have a chance to achieve that feat.
Go Bearcats. Beat Xavier.