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The only rivalry that matters is on as Xavier invades UC's new arena to take on the Bearcats.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Cincinnati
Xavier will be back in these not so friendly confines trying to grab their first true road win of the year.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The premier rivalry game in college basketball is upon us once again. There’s not a lot of rhetoric around this one about respecting the opponent and what they’ve accomplished; it’s all “their All-American guard wouldn’t start for us” and “we put them in a body bag.” This one is fraternal, but only in the tradition of Romulus and Remus.

It has been a bit of a bumpy ride to get to this point for Xavier. After winning some buy games off the start, they gave up the game in one seven-possession run against Wisconsin, couldn’t finish Auburn in Maui, and backed out of a huge lead against SDSU. The Muskies knocked off Illinois and then came home and got healthy against some less-than-inspiring opponents, but they haven’t yet faced a challenge like UC on the road.

Speaking of UC and not having faced challenges, the Bearcats are 8-1 on the year. Hands down their most difficult game was the season opener at home against OSU, which they lost. Beyond that, they’ve beaten an okay Mississippi team on a neutral court and snuck past a mediocre UNLV on the road. They also have four wins in the bottom half of D1 opponents and are 7-0 against teams outside the top 100.

Team fingerprint

If you’ve been around this game for a while, you probably know this stuff already, but humor me. UC’s offense is not great. What they excel at is hitting the offensive glass; they are 8th in the nation in OReb%. This props up an otherwise mediocre statistical profile. UC’s EFG% is outside the top 100, but more than 1 out of 8 of their shots is a stickback, mitigating their paucity of noteworthy shooters. They are a tick above average in ball security and getting to the line. Perhaps of greater note to Xavier fans, their 3P% is a solid 35.4%, but they are 344th in the nation in three-point frequency.

On the other end, UC swarms the ball to force bad shots and turnovers. They’re easily in the top 50 in defensive EFG% and 15th in TO rate. They give up their share of trips to the line and are 231st (!) in DReb%. If there’s a way in against the Bearcats, it’s probably on the glass. They’ve also allowed a ton of attempts from deep, though that may just be symptomatic of how effective they are in choking out the post.

Mick Cronin’s final insult to the beauty of basketball is the team’s pace. They are 300th in the country in offensive tempo and 335th in defensive, adding up to about 65 possessions per game, 346th in the nation and about 5.5 possessions slower than the average game. They try to drag the game into the mud and win it there.

Players

Justin Jenifer Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Junior
5'10", 175 Measurements 6'4", 194
7/1.3/3.8 Game line 12.3/2.3/4.3
0.465/0.5/0.75 Shooting line 0.326/0.243/0.704
UC has had point guard by committee this year with Jenifer and Cane Broom both seeing significant minutes. Jenifer is more of a true point guard, although he has been red hot from three this season. Cronin tends to lean on him more against better opposition, which is when his lack of size is most glaring. He struggles to score the ball against the more physical guards he faces, although no one has been able to speed him up and turn him over with much success this year.
Jarron Cumberland Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Sophomore
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'3", 200
14.9/2.6/3.1 Game line 12.8/4.8/3.9
0.406/0.432/0.784 Shooting line 0.557/0.429/0.75
Cumberland has been lights out from three this season and is playing in a much expanded role with the departures of Evans and Clark. The knock on him offensively has been that he is in love with his midrange jumper, which is by far the least efficient way he scores as he only shoots 37% on them. He likes to get his hand to the ball defensively, but is pretty much a non-factor on the glass most of the time.
Keith Williams Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 210 Measurements 6'4", 193
10.1/4/0.7 Game line 6.4/3.8/0.4
0.486/0.333/0.621 Shooting line 0.528/0.385/0.714
Williams has made a big jump production wise from last season because he has been getting to the rim relentlessly this season. His jump shooting numbers are pretty pedestrian, but he is an absolute menace at the rim and augments his ability there by being very active on the offensive glass. He is another player who has struggled against high major opposition this year, which is not helped by the fact he has minimal ball distribution ability.
Tre Scott Power Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Sophomore
6'8", 225 Measurements 6'7", 222
11/6.4/1.4 Game line 13.6/7/3.6
0.552/0.333/0.719 Shooting line 0.473/0.25/0.714
Scott is another typical Cronin big man. He goes into the lane to bang people around and make the ugly but effective plays on both ends of the court. His rebounding numbers have dropped a bit since last season, especially on the offensive end, but he remains a presence that can get things done down low for UC. A new wrinkle he has added this year is an improvement at the free throw line, where he is now at least serviceable.
Nysier Brooks Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Junior
6'11", 240 Measurements 6'9", 235
7.9/5.4/0.3 Game line 11.3/8.7/0.8
0.619/0/0.679 Shooting line 0.621/0/0.606
Brooks is shining in his newly expanded role as he has stepped out of the shadow of Clark and Washington and become an avatar for Cronin's brand of low block behemoth. He typically is not a high priority on offense, except for the players taking the shots to give him time to carve out space to grab the rebound, which he does as well as anyone on the team. He patrols the lane on defense just begging for an opponent to give him even half a chance at swatting a shot, which leads to both a lot of blocks and frequent foul trouble.

Reserves

The first man off the bench is point man Cane Broom, who actually averages more minutes than Jenifer. Broom has been hamstrung by his poor outside shooting this season, but has shot it well enough in mid-range and at the line to still average over 10 per game. Former JUCO All-American Rashawn Fredericks has been an inconsistent force off the bench, only cracking double digits twice so far this year. As such he playing time has fluctuated and he has been very quiet against the Bearcats’ better opponents.

Logan Johnson plays a bit more than Fredericks, and is certainly a more consistent positive for UC. He is a guard who excels at the rim and can step out and hit a shot, but struggles with ball security. Congolese big man Eliel Nsoseme will spell Brooks when he needs a break, and is pretty much only out there to grab rebounds, which he does very well. Sophomore guard Trevor Moore also gets double digit minutes off the bench, coming in mostly as a glue guy and defender, but rarely is called on to score.

Three questions

-How healthy is the roster? Tyrique took a really solid shot to the back of the head against Ohio, and Zach Hankins has been battling the flu that Xavier’s roster has been passing around. Having both of those guys at something like 100% is going to be crucial. Throw in Quentin Goodin’s sickness and you hope the Muskies’ pharmacist has been working double time to get everyone up and running.

-How much can Ryan Welage play? The question on Welage’s game is one of defensive ability. He has been as advertised on the offensive end, but opponents have overtly targeted him on the defensive end. Travis Steele obviously knows how much a few Welly Bombs can do in this game; the question is whether or not he can hide him somewhere UC won’t be able to attack him on the other end.

-What will Quentin Goodin offer? This is kind of a two-parter. The first is the question of how much gas he has in the tank after being out with the flu. The other is how he’s going to approach the game. Xavier doesn’t have anyone who can bring the ball up and get it to the right guys like Q can. Unfortunately, he’s also averaging 12.7 shots per game despite a shooting line that isn’t making anyone forget about Brad Redford. Q can take over a game without shooting; I hope he recognizes that against the Bearcats.

Three keys

-Gang rebound. UC will miss a lot of shots. When they do, they’re sending three or four guys to the offensive boards every time; they get almost 30% of their OReb from the small forward position. Xavier needs five guys committed to being physical and sharp on the boards; if perimeter players get lazy, they’ll be ball watching as their opponent recycles possession.

-Protect the ball. Thanks to especially stingy performances against Miami and Oakland, Xavier’s ball security numbers are much more respectable than they were early on in the season. It’s no secret that Cincinnati’s defense sells out to get extra possessions from turnovers, and Naji and Scruggernuts have been a little bit susceptible to that kind of stuff. That can’t happen today.

-Weather the storm. Coach Steele said in the presser that there will be a point when UC goes on a 9-0 or 10-0 run and the arena is rocking. With how they defend - especially at home - this is almost certainly true. When that happens, Xavier is going to need to buckle down, get a tough bucket and a stop, and get out the other side without the game running away. The Bearcat offense is certain to go through some droughts; it will be up to Xavier to be in position to take advantage of it.