You don't need to be told why this one is big. Xavier has dominated UC since the turn of the century, but every game is a new lifetime in this matchup.
Cincinnati is working under a first-year head coach in John Brannen. The Bearcats haven't played much of anyone since they opened the season with a respectable eight-point loss against OSU. Since then, their biggest test has been Vermont at home, who they managed to put away late. Somehow they lost to Bowling Green on a neutral court in a game that I didn't watch because it wasn't on TV.
Xavier is 8-1, much to the chagrin of Coach Steele. He hasn't been pleased with the team's effort so far this season, but the Muskies have been getting the results they need. Quentin Goodin as much as admitted the team was looking past Green Bay on Wednesday because of this game; if they can't put together 40 minutes at home in this game, you'd have to worry about if it is ever going to happen.
UC's offense is predicated on getting to the line. They're third in the nation in free throw rate and - even though they hit just 66.7% of their FTs - 16th in the nation in percentage of points scored from the line. They're about average in offensive rebounding and shooting - a touch better from inside the arc than beyond - but they have real problems with ball security. Their TO rate of 21% is 248th in the nation. In total, their offense is 64th-most efficient in the country.
Their defense is just inside the top 50 thanks to being fairly stout inside the arc. Opponents shoot just 41.2% on two-point shots, making UC's two-point defense 22nd in the county. They don't force a lot of turnovers, and they're just a tick above average in defensive rebounding and keeping teams off the line.
|Chris McNeal||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'1", 190||Measurements||6'4", 194|
|McNeal is neither a shooter nor a distributor. He's on his third team and so is involved in his first Shootout. He's here to keep the seat warm until someone else can step in.|
|Jarron Cumberland||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'5", 210||Measurements||6'4", 196|
|Cumberland has struggled with an injury all season and his numbers reflect that. He's still shooting the ball a lot, just not as well as he has in the past. Cumberland has missed practices this week but is expected to play.|
|Keith Williams||Small Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'5", 215||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|Unlike Cumberland, Williams is shooting the ball very well. His 52.9% from deep comes in a small sample, but he's been great inside and at the line. Williams also leads the team in assist rate and rarely turns the ball over.|
|Tre Scott||Power Forward||Jason Carter|
|6'8", 225||Measurements||6'8", 227|
|Scott is the incredibly rare Bearcat who could leave after four years with a winning record against Xavier. He's a relentless force on the glass and converts when he gets to the line.|
|Chris Vogt||Center||Tyrique Jones|
|7'1", 260||Measurements||6'9", 239|
|Vogt is UC's most efficient scorer and is 34th in the nation in EFG%. He'll throw some shots and he's tough to keep off the offensive glass. As per the norm, UC is tough inside.|
The first guy off the bench will be Jaevin Cumberland. He’s a 6-3 senior guard who can absolutely fill it up when he gets hot from deep. 55 of his shots have come from behind the arc, just 12 from inside it. Mika Adams-Woods figures to take Chris McNeal’s spot whenever John Brannen wants to make the switch. He can shoot it a bit, but he’s a turnover waiting to happen at this point. No other Bearcat averages double digits in minutes.
-Will Jarron Cumberland go? John Brannen identified Cumberland as questionable earlier in the week and held him out of practice, but there's no way he doesn't play this one. He has been battling leg injuries all year, but he started UC's last two games and averaged 27 minutes per. If he sits this one out, you'd be right to have questions.
-What can Chris Vogt do against Tyrique Jones? Vogt has had a lot of success early on for UC, but he hasn't faced someone as physical as Tyrique. He's listed as 4 inches taller than Jones, but Tyrique's play is more about his toughness than it is his height. If UC has to bring help to the post and can't get boards from the center position, it could be a long evening for the Bearcats.
-Can UC score without getting to the line? The Bearcats have enjoyed the fruits of a friendly whistle so far this year. Even in their losses, they've shot 78 FT in 85 minutes of play. If they're not getting calls at Cintas, do they have the composure to execute a backup plan before frustration sets in? If so, will it be enough to crack Xavier's excellent defense?
-Jason Carter. This year's Kerem Kanter? This year's Kerem Kanter. We haven't seen Carter's best ball from him so far, but I think we're about to. Bracketed by Naji Marshall and Tyrique in Xavier's lineup, JC should find himself in favorable positions due to those guys forcing help. When that happens, now's the time for him to start cashing out. The coaching staff and his teammates haven't lost faith in him; now it's time for him to start getting results on the floor. The ball will find him in rotations; when it does, he needs to be ready to use it to disrupt UC's game plan.
-Win inside. Cincinnati's big men have been reliable, but Tyrique Jones and Zach Freemantle - and Naji, Carter, and Dontarius James at the four - are a cut above the average D1 frontcourt. Like most teams, UC is best when they play inside out. If Xavier's big men can make the Bearcats work to stay on level terms inside and force their bigs into foul trouble, they can cut the legs right out from under the visitors.
-Contest 94 feet. Cincinnati's primary ballhandlers are, to varying degrees, Jaevin Cumberland and Chris McNeal (transfers who haven't experienced the Shootout before), Mika Adams-Woods (a freshman who hasn't experienced the Shootout before), and Jarron Cumberland (not a point guard, not healthy). The Bearcats can be hassled anyway; their ball security is barely within the top 250 in the nation. In a packed and amped up Cintas Center, against a group of ballhandlers that is less than ideal in composition, Xavier's pressure defense could inexorably swing the tide in the Muskies' favor.