Before the Shootout I thought that rivalry games should be close. That is apparently, not the case. Xavier threw down a 12-2 run in this game to take a nine point lead with roughly 30 minutes left to play. Incredibly, UC never got back to within two possessions. Xavier’s lead peaked at 27 and the 83-63 scoreline flattered the Bearcats. To paraphrase the old saying, this was the sort of rivalry that a hammer has with a nail. Xavier dominated a game that KenPom’s algorithm gave them a 97.3% chance of winning by halftime. This game was over by the time it settled into a rhythm.
Before the Shootout I thought that UC’s defense could give Xavier trouble. It did not. Xavier torched the Bearcats for 1.26 points per possession. Noted college basketball powers Niagara, Kent St, Central Michigan, and even Norfolk St. have all allowed fewer points per possession against the Musketeers this season. Xavier shot 52.6% inside the arc, a reasonable 5-16 from beyond it, and got to the line for 35 attempts. Xavier also dominated the offensive glass by grabbing 46.7% of their misses. In every way possible, X punked UC’s vaunted defense.
Before the Shootout I thought that Travis Steele was a pleasant coach showing great signs of coming into his own. That was before Steele threw multiple defensive looks at the Bearcats in the first half, before he showed what Byron Larkin termed a “sugar” press, before he exhorted the crowd in not family friendly language to stand up and make more noise, before he instructed his players to “take their souls.” Wes Miller is a highly regarded coach trying to make the jump from low major to mid major. Last night Travis Steele chewed him up and spat him out in a demonstration of what high major coaching looks like.
Before the Shootout I thought that Xavier’s team was made up of tough guys on the court. That was correct. Musketeers players were relentless in every place where toughness shows. They controlled the glass, forced more turnovers, won 50/50 balls, hit the floor, and contested every shot. More than that, X played with the swagger that comes with knowing that you are the bully on the block. Zach Freemantle didn’t have one of his better games, but his rejection and stare down of Mika Adams-Woods demonstrated the tone of the game. No Bearcats jumped in to defend their prostrate teammate. A decade ago that would have sparked a brawl, last night UC knew their place and just meekly took their beating.
Before the Shootout I thought Xavier might struggle to win games when Nate Johnson wasn’t hitting. Nate had an off night (1-8 from the floor) against Cincinnati, but it didn’t matter. Adam Kunkel, so thoroughly in his bag he looked like a one man sack race, was 4-8 from the floor in a display of almost pure id. Whatever crosses Kunkel’s mind, he seems to do. A double stepback three? Why not? A running layup/scoop shot from the hip without breaking stride? Of course. Two threes from Jack Nunge complimented Kunkel’s and gave Xavier enough shooting to win the game without their sniper.
Before the Shootout I thought that the refereeing situation in college basketball needed to be addressed. That was painfully evident as this wretched crew somehow contrived to call way too many fouls without ever having control of the game. They were an abomination. Officiating is a hard job, but it isn’t as hard as Brian O’Connell, Jamie Luckie, and John Gaffney just made it look.
Before the Shootout I thought that Jack Nunge was a good big man who probably couldn’t do much more than repeat his excellent performance against Ohio State. I was wrong. Nunge dominated this game in a way few players in the history of this rivalry ever have. Somehow 31/15/2 with a block and a steal undersells what Nunge did in this game. He played 29 minutes, had an incredible 38% usage rate, and turned the ball over one time. He drew 10, 10!, personal fouls against him. What Jack Nunge did to UC bears watching over and over. Savor that, Xavier fans, because it was legitimate greatness.
Before the Shootout I thought that Xavier was the better team and they would win. This isn’t the end of the road for this team, but it was certainly one of the better stops along the way. Xavier are now the undisputed champions of Ohio. Kings of the Queen City and the Buckeye State. Enjoy victory Sunday, Xavier Nation.