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The game before the game

The Shootout awaits, but Xavier can’t be fully focused on the weekend.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Xavier
Not today, Octavious.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Trap game. Banana peel. “Can’t look past these guys.” They’re all division one teams. No matter what cliche or favorite coach quote you prefer, it applies to the game that comes before one of the biggest games on the schedule. The idea that a team can get looking forward to the clash of titans ahead and forget the veritable David standing in front of them. For Xavier and UC that rivalry game means the Crosstown Shootout. And for Xavier most years, that means a relaxing outing beforehand.

This year it is Green Bay that X will take on before the Bearcats. The Phoenix are not good as one would tend to define good teams. They currently rank 206th in the KenPom and haven’t beaten anyone of note. By any measure, they shouldn’t present a problem to a focused Xavier team. The idea of a trap game, though, is that the better team may not be focused.

The last time that Xavier lost the game before the Shootout was February 14th of 2015. On that date they dropped a 78-70 contest to St. John’s in a game where JP Macura never got going and James Farr only played seven minutes. Four days later it was Trevon Bluiett who never got going against UC, but Dee Davis hoisted the team on his shoulders, played all 40 minutes, and hit a rafter scraping three pointer that sent X on their way to a win in the Shootout.

St. John’s also represented something different in that they were a very good team for Xavier to play before UC. X has also played Baylor in the year that the Musketeers went on to be a one seed, but generally the games before the Shootout are classic trap games. In recent seasons that has been Wright State, Ohio, Evansville, Kent State, a terrible Butler squad, Charlotte, and Creighton pre current run of good teams.

The last time Xavier tripped up on one of those games against a lesser light was back in 2004 when they dropped a game to 74th ranked Dayton 74-67. That was the end of a three game loser and the nadir of that season. When the Musketeers knocked off UC four days later, it was the start of The Run that didn’t end until Anthony Myles got Duked in the Elite Eight. (X knocked off Dayton twice that year to avenge that earlier loss).

When it comes to trap games, then, Xavier is a safe bet. Unless it’s Kansas St (2010) or Florida (2011), the Musketeers tend to win the game before the Shootout. Even the one loss to a team that wasn’t as good was still a top 100 game and was itself a rivalry game. UC cleared their final hurdle by knocking off Vermont last night. Xavier’s history suggests they will follow suit but, you know, you can’t overlook these guys.