For starters, Ball State is a Q4 game no matter where or when you play it. The Cardinals can get hot and hurt teams, but Xavier should dispatch them and will pay dearly come March if they don’t.
The days of UC being the best game on Xavier’s non-conference schedule are long gone. For starters, Mario Mercurio now makes sure that the Musketeers get plenty of opportunities to win big games before conference play starts. It was Mercurio’s study of how to game the RPI that got Xavier ahead of the curve before that terrible metric was retired.
The second reason that this isn’t the jewel of the non-con is that Cincinnati isn’t going to be #1 in anything any time soon. Wes Miller is a great coach, but he’s trying to resuscitate a program that John Brannen put on life support. The Bearcats stepped off a precipice last year and were plunging toward a hilarious irrelevance until salvation came in the form of the revelation that John Brannen is a terrible person to go along with being a bad coach.
That leaves Xavier playing the best rivalry game in basketball against a team that is now looking up at them. Still, the demise of UC has been overstated. The Bearcats have shot up the KenPom rankings from 117th to start the year to 71st now. Wins over Illinois and a handful of lesser opponents have propelled Cincinnati up to 41st in the NET.
That is the more important number for Xavier. Right now, UC represents a Quad 2 game, the same as an Ohio State University has dropped to. Much like an Ohio State, UC should remain a solid Quad 2 but could conceivably jump to a Quad 1 if everything breaks right for the Bearcats. Last season Xavier’s middling resume included only five Q2 wins. The Musketeers have two already this season with a chance now for a third on Saturday.
So the Shootout, though loaded with meaning, will be a just a decent resume game this year. At some point Wes Miller figures to have the Bearcats back being a nationally relevant program. Until then, Xavier will have to recognize that, at least in terms of resume, this game matters a lot more to their crosstown rivals.
We talk about that, and a lot more, in the newest episode of our podcast.