Today marks the start of Shootout Week. This Saturday, the finest rivalry game college basketball has to offer will be contested, as Xavier travels just down the road to take on Cincinnati at Fifth Third Arena.
In tangential but ultimately vital news, the NCAA released its NET rankings today. As every college basketball fan knows, all of the nuance and passion of the entire season is ultimately ironed down to a series of numbers that will be pored over by the selection committee, and those numbers are largely dictated by the NET rankings.
Right now, Xavier is 48th in the NET; UC is 151st. If Xavier wins it, it won’t help the resume at all. If they lose, it will be a black mark on their tournament credentials.
How did it get here? It’s simple, really; UC hasn’t done anything to make themselves look like a good opponent so far this season. They started with a 98-55 win over Chaminade that had them looking like challengers for the (Division II) national championship. They continued that momentum with fairly perfunctory home wins over Cleveland State and EKU. So far, so good.
Then disaster struck: UC got run off the court at NKU. The Norse are 209th in the KenPom and 259th in the NET. They’re solidly ensconced as a quad 4 game right now; they held Cincinnati to 11 points in the second half and used a 17-3 run to walk away from a Bearcats team that looked thoroughly overmatched.
UC didn’t exactly go from strength to strength after that. They wasted their best offensive performance of the year by giving up 61 in the second half against Arizona, then scored three points in ten minutes across the half while getting clobbered by Ohio State. What could have been a marquee win over Louisville was undermined by the fact that Louisville sucks this year.
That was all in Hawai’i. UC came home from there and beat an abject NJIT team and a Bryant squad missing star guard Earl Timberlake and having several other players slowed by illness. It all adds up to a team that is 0-2 in Quad 1, 2-0 in Quad 3, and 2-1 in Quad 4. They’ve played two real teams and been outscored 182-146 over 137 possessions in those games. It hasn’t been good.
There is some hope that this game won’t remain a poison pill on Xavier’s resume. The Bearcats just need to improve by 16 places to move to a Q2 game. If you assume the NKU game was the nadir of Cinci’s season rather than their true level, you’d assume the trek through the AAC schedule would give them plenty of chances to pick off some cannon fodder and move up a bit.
The Shootout is a must-win game for campus pride every year for Xavier. With the amount of chances at good wins X has missed this season and UC being completely adrift of anything like an at-large contender, it’s vital for the Muskies’ resume that they take care of business in this game.