The Xavier Musketeers enter the 2020 Crosstown Shootout with a couple advantages over the Cincinnati Bearcats. They are more battle-tested with five games under their belt compared to the lone Lipscomb game for UC. Three of those five games were decided by three points or less against Bradley (kenpom 116), EKU (KP 180), and Toledo (KP 113). The Musketeers have better chemistry as well primarily due to the Bearcats having seven newcomers for the second year in a row. However, Xavier doesn’t seem to have much of an offensive identity under Coach Travis Steele. Their half-court offensive sets do not contain much off-ball movement which makes some of their possessions look like something out of a pick up game.
Despite this, Xavier’s big three of Zach Freemantle, Paul Scruggs, and Kyky Tandy will provide a very tough challenge for this Bearcats team. Freemantle (17.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg) plays the center position, but his ability to step out and convert from long distance (35.7% 3PT) make him a matchup problem for both Rapolas Ivanauskas and Chris Vogt. If Freemantle gets going and hits a few jumpers early, expect Brannen to go a little smaller and put Jeremiah Davenport in for Christ Vogt and move Ivanauskas to the five. Davenport can better defend Freemantle while the Bearcats will have to make up for the absence of Vogt on the other end.
Kyky Tandy is another exceptional shooter (41.4% 3PT) for the Musketeers while Paul Scruggs finds success by slashing to the basket and finding open teammates or finishing over smaller or slower defenders. Keith Williams, Mika Adams-Woods, and David DeJulius will have their work cut out for them against a backcourt that averages 27.2 points and 10.4 assists per game. If Williams picks up two quick fouls like he did last game and has to sit, the Bearcats will lose this game.
The margin for error for the Bearcats is miniscule. They cannot afford to foul over 90 feet away from the basket or get in the bonus with more than ten minutes to go in a half. No easy points for the musketeers. No 0/13 from three in a half or 7/13 from the free throw line. Veterans have to show up and perform. I expect Keith Williams to have a big game to make up for his lackluster performance against Lipscomb. Chris Vogt will have to make the most of his minutes because I’m not sure how long he can survive without getting exposed on defense. That means Jeremiah Davenport will have to once again take full advantage of the minutes given to him just like he did last game.
Xavier is going to play a lot of two-man game with their guards and Freemantle, whether it be inside-out, outside-in, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, or drive-and-kick. These are simple concepts, but the ability to stop these concepts comes down to skill and discipline. Defenders like Adams-Woods, Williams, and Davenport (and maybe Eason) are athletic and disciplined enough to disrupt these types of pick-up offenses. On the other hand, Vogt, Mamoudou Diarra, and Gabe Madsen are not so Coach Brannen has a bit of a balancing act in front of him.
At the end of the day, it comes down to execution. There is no crowd or fanfare around this edition of the Crosstown Shootout. It’s just a 5-on-5 open gym, an underrated type of basketball. Someone once said that you have to go out and win games you aren’t expected to win in order to garner respect as a program and that’s what the Bearcats have to do on December 6th at 3:00 pm in Fifth-Third Arena.