"You can throw out the records when these two teams meet" is the kind of foolish garbage you won't be reading here in the run up to the Crosstown Shootout. While it's true that a team ranked #1 in the nation and holding a gaudy W-L has occasionally taken a loss in this game, it's also true that this game occurs in the larger context of a season where records are important. Both of these teams are lingering uncomfortably close to the bubble right now. If you could choose between a Shootout win and a slot in the NCAA tournament, which would you take? I know my answer.
Digging a little bit deeper into the records thing, it's clear that both of these teams are on the NCAA tournament bubble and are desperate for a win not only in terms of a rivalry game also to solidify their resumes. Ugly losses have plagued both programs this year: Xavier has four truly bad losses in Long Beach State (RPI 101), @Auburn (131), Creighton (134), and @DePaul (136). UC has only three below the 100 mark in the RPI, with @Nebraska (111) and Tulane (149) being bad enough but @East Carolina (231) being the real cherry on top.
On the other end of things, Cinci has actually fared well in the RPI top 25, beating SMU twice and knocking off San Diego State in December. Their only loss was a 21-point trouncing at the hands of VCU. X has knocked off Georgetown twice and split with Providence but also has losses to Butler and Villanova hurting their number against the cream of the RPI crop.
It's the bottom end of things that is dragging Cincinnati down. Much like Xavier did in the A-10, they have played too many games against weak competition, with 13 games coming outside of the top 100 and 10 games outside of the top 150. For Xavier, it's the sheer number of losses that is starting to become a problem. Six have come to top 100 teams and 4 have come to teams in the top 50, but at a certain point even "not-bad" losses weigh a team down. X just has to keep the L number as low as possible at this point.
So who needs it more?
For Xavier, this represents one more hurdle to clear in avoiding losses down the stretch. It's hard to imagine a Xavier team with 13 losses going into the Big East Tournament having much of a chance at an at-large bid; the Muskies have to go at worst 3-2 down the stretch to stay afloat. With their final five opponents having an average RPI of 46, every game is going to be a struggle that Xavier can ill afford to lose.
For Cincinnati, this is their last best chance at a resume win. Their five remaining games after the Shootout are against teams with an average RPI of 151. The wins will be there, but they aren't likely to mean much of anything, and the AAC tournament isn't going to be ripe with resume-building opportunities. It's this game, the trip to RPI #49 Tulsa, and a real pile of garbage left on the schedule for UC.
Xavier will be hosting a couple of top-25 teams in the weeks after the Shootout. While a loss would be a serious blow to Xavier, the schedule still give them a chance to recover (albeit an unlikely one). For that reason, I'm going to have to go with Lunardi and say a Shootout win is more desperately needed by UC, though only just. Hopefully Xavier can keep that from happening for them.