Xavier Musketeers vs. Cincinnati Bearcats -7
This is one of my absolute favorite games of the season. It may not have the national spotlight that a North Carolina vs. Duke matchup garners, and it may not have the big name pedigree of a Kentucky vs. Louisville or even some of the conference importance of a Florida vs. Kentucky or Ohio State vs. Michigan State (or this year, Indiana or Michigan State as well…). But what it does have is a ton of bragging rights and, on some occasions, a bit too much animosity.
Unfortunately, this rivalry, which has been spectacular for twenty years has now become most famous “The Brawl,” and ugly scene that unfolded last season near the end of a Xavier victory. Nearly every key contributor to last year’s fiasco is gone, either by graduation or in the case of Xavier’s Mark Lyons and Dez Wells, transfer and dismissal respectively. The names may be the same, but the intensity of this rivalry will remain very intense.
Xavier has performed surprisingly well in this rivalry, even in many years when Cincinnati (mostly in the Bobby Huggins era) had a clearly superior team. However, this year might be one of the toughest challenges yet. Cincinnati is unbeaten at 11-0 and has looked very good this season. The growth of Sean Kilpatrick is a huge reason why. He has gone from question mark to All Big-East caliber player in the span of a season, and has led the Bearcats to their perfect start.
The other problem for the Muskies is that they just aren’t real good this season. Yes, the Butler win is looking better and better every day as the Bulldogs add victims to their hit list, but the losses to Pacific and the home loss to Vanderbilt are looking worse and worse. The Musketeers have a few decent wins on the ledger, but all in all, this doesn’t look like an NCAA tournament team right now.
But does any of that really matter when the ball gets tossed up for the Crosstown Shootout?!?
Most year, not really. But this year? For the first time, this game is on a neutral floor. The rivalry will still be intense, but might be tuned down an octave. The other concern for Xavier? They are offensively challenged, with only freshman Semaj Christon being a legit threat to create shots for both himself and others. The rest of the team are spot up shooters and average to below-average post players.
I think the Bearcat defense smothers them, and UC enjoys a year that harkens back to the 90’s, when they were the hunted rather than the unstart hunters.
Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats -7