USA TODAY Sports
Last year's game was marred somewhat by the festivities with less than ten seconds left. That may be all you hear about this week, but it's hardly the story of this game.
If you check ESPN, FOX, or CBS this morning, it's hard to find much a mention of the Crosstown Shootout. Far from the clash of a ranked Xavier and a growing in confidence UC team that was last year's game, this occasion seems to be flying mostly under the radar. The Bearcats enter the game ranked, possibly even in the top ten. (Rankings aren't out as of this going to press). Xavier is a respectable 7-2, but is hardly the power that they were last year. Beyond all that though, there is one major reason the media is avoiding the hype this year, and it has nothing to do with the teams.
Last year Xavier-UC was one of the lynchpins of ESPN's Rivalry Week. We won't get into all the details here, but you all remember how that ended. The Fight and the absurdly long fallout (including a name change that we are mostly ignoring) has undoubtedly tainted the game in the eyes of the people who make big money off college basketball. Far from fading out of the public consciousnesses, the fight still lingers as the main thing people not close to either program seem to remember about them. Indeed, it's hard to find mention of Mark Lyons' game winner for Arizona without seeing something about his "tumultuous past" or his being a "villain" at this point last year. For some, the Fight is still what defines even players who have left the program.
The national media's lack of willingness to move forward from a dead issue notwithstanding, the Shootout is bearing down on us again. For fans across Ohio though, the game is about much more than a single fight in a single game. There have been good deal of memorable moments recently in the series that didn't involve altercations. Lloyd Price picked Steve Logan at center court, Kevin Frey raced past the benches to seal a defeat of #1 UC with a dunk, and Lenny Brown dropped in a floater in the lane that sent Andy Mac to the edge of sanity. There has been double overtime, David West leaving the court in tears, Dante Jackson allowing no easy buckets, Pete Gillen and Bob Huggins, and 78 meetings other meetings in a storied rivalry. Short of the City Game in Pittsburgh, there is no major college basketball rivalry where the schools are so close. One game will not forever set the narrative.
One fight didn't even set the narrative last year. Both programs recovered and landed in the Sweet 16 as part of a group of four Ohio teams (OSU and OU the others) to advance that far. Xavier spotted Baylor and 18 point lead before roaring back in some style before falling by five. UC was summarily dispatched by the Buckeyes, for once the best team in the state. Xavier didn't bounce back as quickly from last year's Shootout as the Bearcats did. While UC reeled off an impressive string of wins and suspension force Mick Cronin to make the lineup changes he wasn't capable of seeing he needed, the Musketeers struggled. It wasn't until a semi-final win in the Atlantic 10 tournament that Xavier really even sowed up their place in the NCAAs last year. An abjectly miserable February ultimately didn't derail Coach Mack's team as much as it had threatened to.
So that brings us back to this year. Both schools come off years that most anyone would consider a success. Xavier is on a downturn, but hardly a pushover behind Semaj Christon and Justin Martin. Sean Kilpatrick, who started the festivities last year, now leads a UC team that is only a couple ranks below the elite this year. Xavier has beaten UC when the Bearcats were heavy favorites before, and UC has occasionally held serve. That, ultimately, is why televisions will go on at 7pm on Wednesday night, because this rivalry never fails to produce.