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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Cincinnati

The Crosstown Shootout is on enemy ground this year, as Xavier travels to UC’s newly-renovated arena to take on the Bearcats.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Xavier
Weird that this guy had an aneurysm.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Late jazz legend Herb Pomeroy once said that Jazz was the most fun you can have with your clothes on, but he had never beaten his crosstown rival and then had their coach try to fight one of his players, so I don’t think he had a representative sample of experiences to draw upon. Xavier fans do, though, and they’ll be happy to know the rivalry game is being played again this year, this time at Cincinnati’s place.

UC has completely renovated their arena, but they’ve kept the same garden gnome out front. Mick Cronin is back to coach the team as he has been every year since 2008, probably to a first-weekend exit in the tournament if history is any teacher. Cronin has made the tournament each of the last eight years and recorded one or zero wins in seven of those trips. He also loves defense and hates beautiful things.

The game will be played on Saturday, December 2nd at 2pm at whatever UC calls its arena now. It will be broadcast on ESPN2, where it will no doubt be announced by the finest crew college basketball has to offer and nobody on Twitter will complain about the things they say.

Key departures

Jacobs Evans, F (13.0/4.7/3.1, .427/.370/.754)
Gary Clark, F (12.9/8.7/2.1, .526/.435/.741)
Kyle Washington, F (11.3/5.5/0.4, .505/.357/.740)

UC loses a trio of forwards that were, realistically, their most productive players. Clark was the team’s best rebounder, best defender, and most efficient offensive player. Washington was the team’s best rim protector and a solid rebounder who had his moments as a secondary offensive option. Evans led the team in scoring and was its best long-range shooter. He was inspired to leave a year of eligibility on the table to declare for the NBA draft, where he was drafted by the Warriors and didn’t make much of an impression in the summer league.

Key returnees

Jarron Cumberland, Jr., 6’5” G (11.5/4.0/2.9, .409/.339/.678)
Cane Broome, Sr., 6’0” G (7.9/1.5/2.8, .463/.390/.708)
Justin Jenifer, Sr., 5’10” G (4.8/1.0/2.5, .365/.357/.772)
Tre Scott, Jr., 6’8” F (3.1/3.6/0.9, .554/.000/.596)

Cumberland is a solid scorer who is going to be asked to carry the load as the only returning guy who could consistently get his own bucket last year. He’s a good shooter when he gets space, but he’s a tick below average at the mid-range and in the lane. He’s not offering a ton more on offense than scoring, so he needs to get the ball into the basket to be productive.

Broome and Jenifer were a combo that Cronin couldn’t quite figure out how to use last year. Jenifer is the more traditional point guard, but Broome is unquestionably the more dynamic offensive player. Cronin didn’t know how he wanted the one run, and the result was that UC fans were frustrated with the position, both players, and the coach approaching it. I’m sure Cronin has magically sprouted the offensive nous necessary to handle the quandary this season.

Scott got limited run as a sophomore last year, but I’ve added him here because a ton of minutes are opening up at the forward positions and he seems next in line to grab them. He was an efficient post scorer and high-percentage rebounder; don’t be surprised if he makes a big jump in productivity this season.

Incoming players

Rashawn Fredericks, Jr., 6’6” F

Um... yeah. A team that lost half of its scoring and almost half of its rebounding last year doesn’t have an immediately meaningful freshman coming in and only signed one immediately-eligible transfer. If the vacant minutes are going to get filled, it’s going to be from within. How well that’s going to go is anyone’s guess, but Bart Torvik’s early projections have UC starting this year at 55th after ending last year 50 spots higher.

Anyway, Fredericks is a wing from Motlow State Community College in Tennessee. He scored over 1,000 points in two years there and was a high-level rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. His shooting line of .467/.323/.787 last season was solid, but he might find the defenses of D1 NCAA ball tougher to crack. Fortunately for him, he’ll get to play the bulk of his games against AAC competition, which should feel pretty familiar to him.

On the whole, UC is going to take a step back this year. They lost what should have been their golden generation, but the four-year class led by Gary Clark amounted to a 3-4 record in the NCAA tournament, no Sweet 16s, and a 1-3 mark in the Shootout. With recruiting at a distinctly American level - a two-star and an unranked prospect in the 2018 class, just one three-star so far in the 2019 class - the Bearcats don’t look like they’re reloading so much as settling to level this season. It could be a long climb back to the national stage for UC.