The Cincinnati Bearcats have had an uneven start to the 2019-20 basketball season but with a 6-2 record and three-straight wins to their name, it looks like they are settling into a bit of rhythm. They’ll need the momentum they’ve accumulated when they tangle with the Xavier Musketeers this weekend in this season’s rendition of the fabled Crosstown Shootout.
In many ways, this is the start of a new epoch in the rivalry, especially for the Bearcats, but before we settle in for this episode, let’s familiarize ourselves with the starters on each side. We’ll be doing this a bit differently than last season and comparing the backcourt and frontcourts of each starting lineup. Obviously, there is some positional fluidity here, but these are generally where these players fit on the floor.
Backcourt - Chris McNeal, Keith Williams and Jarron Cumberland or Jaevin Cumberland (Cincinnati) vs. Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs (Xavier)
The Bearcats lean a bit more into the backcourt than the Musketeers but the actual lineup may be different this weekend as its unclear if Jarron Cumberland will be able to suit up. Even as he’s missed time, Cumberland leads the team in scoring (14.3 PPG) and the Bearcats are obviously much better with him on the floor.
If Jarron Cumberland is unable to go, the Bearcats will still have a J. Cumberland in the starting lineup. Jaevin Cumberland has already made a couple of starts and he’s been scorching the net from three no matter when he enters the game. He has drained 38.8 percent from three and, in UC’s recent win over Vermont, he helped carry the offense, finishing with 21 points on 5-of-10 from the floor, with all five field goals coming from beyond the arc. With a 97.9 overall offensive rating, Jaevin Cumberland may not be the all-around offensive player as who he would be replacing, but his shooting makes him a strong starting option all the same.
The Bearcats can further handle a game without Jarron Cumberland thanks to Keith Williams. If he is the nominal shooting guard for this team, he’s earned the moniker, with a 57.8 percent true shooting rate and an offensive rating of 117.6. Williams is scoring exceptionally well in his third season and after he produced 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting (including 4-of-4 from three) with five assists and five rebounds against Vermont, its clear that there’s much more to his game than getting buckets.
Chris McNeal rounds out the starting trio in the backcourt for the Bearcats. He has struggled a bit to find his offense in his first season with the team. His shooting splits of .294/.143/.457 prove that. However, he has provided some playmaking, with a 17.3 percent assist rate.
The primary backcourt contributors for the Musketeers are two Crosstown Shootout veterans in Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs.
This will be Scruggs’ third Crosstown Shootout and could easily be his best with how he’s been playing. The junior guard has scored in double figures in every game this season and is averaging 15.1 points per game on 51 percent shooting. He could be shooting even better since he hasn’t been very efficient from three (31.7 percent on 5.1 attempts per game). Beyond scoring, he possesses the ability to distribute and is defending at a high level, making him a tough player on both ends of the floor. A potential duel between Scruggs and Williams or either Cumberland is worth watching all by itself.
As for Goodin, he has taken a step back to start this campaign. He averaged 11 points and 4.8 assists per game last season but is at 6.8 points and 2.8 assists per game through the first nine contests of this one. The senior guard is still capable of throwing up a double figure scoring night, as he did on Wednesday against Green Bay, but its clear that he has some work to do as the season progresses.
Frontcourt - Trevon Scott and Chris Vogt (Cincinnati) vs. Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones and Jason Carter (Xavier)
Just because the Bearcats have more players in the starting lineup that we are labeling as guards doesn’t mean that they aren’t talented up front. Trevon Scott and Chris Vogt have forged a pretty sturdy partnership down low and it has been a driving force behind the Bearcats’ success. Both Scott (1.0) and Vogt (1.2) have accounted for at least one win share already while only one other player on the Bearcats has reached that level (Williams). Scott is nearly averaging a double-double this season (9.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG) thanks to his incredible efforts on the glass and Vogt has provided some stellar low-post scoring (12.9 PPG) and rim protection (1.5 BPG). In Tuesday’s win against Vermont, Scott produced his second double-double of the season while Vogt turned in 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks. With such a duo, the Bearcats can hang with most frontcourts.
Unfortunately for the Bearcats, Xavier’s starting frontcourt is a cut above most. It starts with Naji Marshall. The junior forward can do just about anything Xavier needs. He scores at a high level (team-high 15.4 PPG), crashes the glass (5.8 RPG), finds open teammates (3.8 APG), disrupts passing lanes (1.1 SPG) and defends well (87.2 defensive rating). If there’s a weak part of his game so far, its his three-point shooting (23.3 percent on 4.8 attempts per game) but he still can’t be ignored out there either, making it even more difficult to stop him. The Bearcats found a way last season, holding Marshall to eight points on 2-of-13 shooting, but it is unlikely that they’ll be able to replicate that success.
The rest of Xavier’s starting frontcourt is manned by Tyrique Jones and Jason Carter. Jones excels at commanding the painted area and is a bigger double-double threat than Scott, with four in the last five games and five in total this season. Jones is averaging 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game and has been a sensational defender (82.7 defensive rating) while actually leading the team in win shares (1.5). His battle with Vogt, who has the height advantage, will be a key to this game.
Meanwhile, Carter is a player who fills in the gaps and has started in eight of nine games. He hasn’t been a particularly impressive shooter (33.3 percent from the field) but he is a solid rebounder (5.6 RPG) and defender (86.9 defensive rating) and averaged 16.5 points per game while playing with the Ohio Bobcats last season.
Obviously there will be other players who will make an impact on this game. However, these are the players who will log the most minutes and have the best chance at deciding the outcome. That’s a pretty big opportunity considering the stakes of this rivalry and it is one neither lineup will take for granted. With the Bearcats’ starting lineup more backcourt-focused and the Mustketeers’ having a bit more in the frontcourt, this has the makings of an even matchup. That’s just the way a rivalry like this should be ... as long as the Bearcats win at the end of it.