One of Mick Cronin’s young charges said earlier this week that he didn’t buy into the Shootout “hype” and that the Bearcats would be preparing for this weekend’s tilt as if it were a game against Arkansas Pine Bluff. Tre Scott would know what that is like, because UC has, a per their norm, prepared for their biggest non-conference game by scheduling a tilt against the SWAC power. The Bearcats 8-1 looks a lot better than Xavier’s 6-3, but the differences are more than just skin deep.
For starters, and for all the clowning that will happen in this abbreviated week, St. Mick has shown signs of finally learning by scheduling a couple of decent non-conference games. Salads amongst a parade of cupcakes, if you will. The Bearcats started their season by losing to Ohio State. The #20 Buckeyes were the highest ranked non-Xavier non-conference opponent that UC had played since taking on #13 Maryland (all rankings KenPom) on the 24th of November of 2009. In somewhat of a surprise twist, UC has played another double digit ranked opponent this year, defeating #67 Mississippi.
After that there have been decent teams like NKU (#118) and UNLV (#139), both of whom played the Bearcats relatively close. #170 George Mason is clinging to the respectable/buy game line, but things go far downhill after that. Cincinnati’s other non-conference opponents read like a list of places you might go on a very sad vacation. Milwaukee (#272), North Carolina Central (#314), Western Michigan (#233 and western Michigan is actually beautiful), and the aforementioned Arkansas Pine Bluff (#333).
UC is winning against that litany of losers by an average margin of 28.75 points. There’s no way of parsing that that isn’t impressive. While Xavier has struggled to put away Oakland and Ohio, the Bearcats are obliterating the teams a step down in class. If building confidence coming into the Shootout is important, Cronin’s guys figure to be well sorted.
What all of that means is that Xavier has played two opponents better than Cincinnati’s best, and three Tier A or B teams to UC’s two, with Illinois just five spots out of Tier B. The Bearcats are hammering weak competition like they always do but, like Xavier, haven’t played a decent team since Thanksgiving. The portion of the season given to buy games is over now, though, and even a Xavier team that has frustrated fans will represent UC’s toughest game since the season opener.