Any tradition as old as the Crosstown Shootout is bound to go through some different permutations. As hard as it is to believe now, there was a time in history in which this was actually UC's game to lose (ask your grandparents if you don't believe me). There was a stretch during which Xavier was the mid-major. Things ebb and flow; that's the nature of life.
For the past decade or so, the game was underlain by two local kids made good coaching their respective programs in a rivalry where they knew what it meant, even if they occasionally downplayed it. When not serving as the face of Travelocity's TV ads, Mick Cronin was largely winning press conferences (and losing games for UC) against Salad Fingers impersonator Chris Mack.
The two could not have been more perfect foils for one another. Cronin was a self-styled tough guy with exponentially more bark than bite. His teams were in his image, able to bully the easily-cowed but often not ready for the figurative or occasionally literal punches in the mouth of the Shootout. Chris Mack was more measured in his public persona, and his teams followed suit with an on-court swagger that they were rarely afraid to tell you about.
Mack was 6-3 in Shootouts. Cronin was 5-8.
Both are gone now.
The next era of the Shootout has its antagonists. On one side is Travis Steele, a long-time member of the Xavier coaching staff who stayed on board despite being linked with head jobs elsewhere. His persistence was rewarded with the head seat when Chris Mack moved on.
One of the jobs to which Steele was purported to be going was NKU, who ultimately hired John Brannen instead. Brannen helped the Norse complete their jump to D1 basketball by guiding them to the NCAA tournament in 2017, their first season of eligibility. He was seen as a potential rising star in coaching when UC snatched him up this April.
Brannen is 45. Steele is 38. If both coaches stick around, they'll be the faces of a new era of this rivalry. Mick and Mack have moved on; tomorrow's game is the first look at the future.