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Crosstown Shootout Preview

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The Big East is great, but this one is the one that really counts.

Easy there, little fella.
Easy there, little fella.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Crosstown Shootout. With a modicum of respect to UNC-Duke, Bedlam, or Kentucky v. Louisville, this is the preeminent college basketball rivalry game in the nation. Always intense, often scrappy, and prone to sudden bouts of violence, the Shootout has become so hotly contested that it briefly had to be moved off campus to a more secure neutral location. That doesn't happen anywhere else. This season, another layer has been added. Both of these teams desperately need a good win on their bubble resume. Take a rivalry, THE rivalry, and add desperation.

Recently, most of the contesting has been done in the media and never ending trash talk. Not since the absolute all time classic in 2010 has the game even been within 15 by the end. This season, UC enters off back to back losses to Temple and Tulane. With only AAC games left after this, Xavier represents their final chance for a good win. Because the American is so weak, UC's remaining games are essentially must wins. This one is their chance to grab a win that stands out. Xavier comes in 7-7 in the Big East with games remaining against Butler and Villanova. The Musketeers have been alarmingly bipolar all season and showcased that by losing at home to St. John's in their last time out.

Team fingerprint:

Shockingly, the Bearcats prefer to play ugly basketball. On offense they will grind possessions for over 20.5 seconds, so slow that only 20 teams in the nation take more time. They do that in order to, generally, force up a bad shot or turn the ball over. Their effective field goal percentage of 49.3% is 160th nationally and their turnover percentage of 21.8% is 319th out of 351. That's not good. What the Bearcats do well is get after those misses, grabbing 37% of their misses. That's as good as their turnover number is bad. Once again, "rock fight" seems an apt phrase.

Defensively, Cincinnati is excellent. They force opponents to take over 19 seconds to get a shot, and then they contest everything. The Bearcats are 18th in the nation in effective field goal percentage allowed, 65th in the three point percentage, 16th in two point percentage (Xavier's offense is 11th), sixth in block percentage, 32nd in steal percentage, and eighth in free throw to field goal ratio. That impressive assemblage of numbers comes only at the cost of allowing a 32.6% offensive rebounding rate, a tradeoff the Bearcats are more than willing to make.

STARTING MATCHUPS
Troy Caupain Point Guard Dee Davis
Sophomore Class Senior
6-3, 200 Measurements 6-0, 170
10.0/3.4/3.4 Game line 8.5/2.2/6.3
.465/.411/.825 Shooting line .383/.264/.710
Caupain has the size advantage here, but he throws the ball away nearly as frequently as he throws it to a teammate. His assist rate of 25.6% is impressive, the turnover rate of 24.3%, not so much. Caupain is decent shooter, especially from the top of the key and the left corner, but he only lifts 2.2 threes per game.
Kevin Johnson Shooting Guard Myles Davis
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6-2, 175 Measurements 6-2, 195
6.1/1.3/1.4 Game line 11.1/2.4/2.2
.349/.309/.677 Shooting line .422/.396/.894
Johnson isn't much of a shooter and compounds that by turning the ball over 23.4% of the time he touches it. His job is going to be harrying whoever he matches up against. His 2.7% steal rate is among the top 400 in the nation.
Jermaine Sanders Forward Remy Abell
Senior Class Junior
6-5, 210 Measurements 6-4, 195
5.2/3.0/.8 Game line 8.9/1.9/1.4
.414/.264/.533 Shooting line .494/.420/.733
Sanders is either going to the rim, where he finishes very well, or taking ill advised three pointers. 22% of his shots are left wing threes, where he shoots only 29%. Sanders has made one field goal in the last 80 minutes he's played.
Gary Clark Forward James Farr
Freshman Class Junior
6-7, 230 Measurements 6-10, 247
7.4/6.8/1.6 Game line 4.3/5.3/.5
.524/.000/.604 Shooting line .405/.229/.478
Here's where Xavier can win a matchup with Farr. Clark is a banger, not a stretch four. UC will attempt to initiate offens through him in the low post. That leaves Farr where he excels if he can avoid foul trouble. Clark isn't an easy matchup though, 72% of his shots are at the rim, and he finishes well.
Octavious Ellis Center Matt Stainbrook
Junior Class Senior
6-10, 230 Measurements 6-10, 270
9.4/7.1/1.4 Game line 12.3/6.8/2.3
.579/.000/.716 Shooting line .622/.333/.725
If the UC offense doesn't run through Clark, it will go through Ellis. Ellis lives under the rim and only occasionally steps out to the right to try a shot or two. He and Clark both crush the offensive glass, and Ellis throws 9.3% of opponents shots.

Reserves:

Farad Cobb (7.9/2.4/1.4), a 6-0 guard, will come off the bench gunning. He's knocked down 33% of the 118 threes he's attempted this year. His 26% shots percentage is highest on the team, so when he comes on, it's going up. Shaquille Thomas (5.8/3.1/0.5) is the only other player on the team who plays at least 50% of the time. He's a 6-7 forward whose shot selection is a large part of why his offensive rating is an appalling 88.1. DeShaunt Morman will see time spelling the guards and shoot a lot, though not well, when he does. Coreontae DeBarry is a 6-10 big whose rebounding isn't quite what his size would suggest, but who will block nearly 10% of opponents shots.

Three questions:

- What pace will the game be played at? Xavier's 66.6 adjust tempo isn't blazing fast, but looks like a drop of jet fueled mercury compared to the stagnant 60.6 of UC. UC wants the game to be slow so they can bring their more physical style of play to bear. Look for the Musketeers to run off UC turnovers and try to catch the Bearcats attacking the offensive glass with quick outlet passes. The more possessions, the better off Xavier is.

- Who wins the battle inside? Xavier lives on scoring from inside, the Bearcats defend that better than all but 15 other teams in the nation. If Ellis can guard Matt Stainbrook without help, Xavier's gameplan gets thrown off. If Stainbrook can force a double team, the Musketeers will look for Trevon Bluiett cutting and James Farr and Jalen Reynolds for big to big passes.

- Where is Xavier's mental toughness? Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds are up for every contest, that can be counted on. Dee Davis is going to scrap. Beyond that, Xavier has looked butter soft recently. You can bet that the Bearcats will punch (possibly literally) the Musketeers early and often. Xavier absolutely must find some intestinal fortitude to win this game.

Three keys:

- Stretch the defense: UC defends the arc well, allowing opponents to shoot only 31.6% from deep and get off only 32.8% of their shots from there. Quick ball movement and a couple of early threes would go a long way to opening the lane for Stainbrook and Reynolds.

- Take care of the ball: Inherent in trying to run is the risk of throwing the ball away. Xavier has to push the pace, but getting too far over the ragged edge will result in more 20-25 second Bearcat possessions off turnovers. Running only helps when it's done with a semblance of restraint.

- Show zone: Cincinnati is not good (31.7%) from deep and they don't shoot from there often (31.5% of their attempts). Getting in the 1-3-1 and daring the Bearcats to win the game from deep might be the way to go. There's a good chance they can't.