Last Updated: 2017-03-06
The Xavier Musketeers are in the Big East and the Cincinnati Bearcats are in the American Athletic Conference, but these two teams still one have of the most-heated rivalries in college basketball. The latest installment of the Crosstown Shootout in the Queen City takes place on Thursday night when Xavier visits Cincinnati at Fifth Third Arena just a stone’s throw from the Ohio River. Cincinnati is favored by five in what is sure to be a very spirited matchup that interested parties can view on ESPN2. Those that want a little bit of additional interest in the game can bet on it over at Galaxy Sports. Sign up with the promo code ‘BTB’ and then use your 100 percent deposit bonus, up to $300, to get involved in this rivalry game.
Xavier is 14-5 on the season and 10-8 against the spread. The Musketeers hit a wall in Big East play with three straight losses to ranked opponents Villanova, Butler, and Creighton before getting back on track on Sunday against Georgetown. It’s a little bit weird that the Crosstown Shootout game comes right in the heart of conference play, but this is certainly a game that both teams get up for. The Bearcats are 17-2 on the season with an 8-7 mark against the spread. Xavier has played a far tougher schedule by the metrics, but Cincinnati has taken care of business and there’s something to be said for that. One of Cincinnati’s losses, ironically, came against Butler of the Big East in a 75-65 game in Indianapolis. The other was a neutral-site defeat against Rhode Island.
Fuel never needs to be added to the fire of this game, but Xavier has won three straight in this rivalry and seven of the last nine. That means that the Cincinnati seniors run the risk of not beating the Musketeers. They would be the first class to achieve that dubious distinction. It just so happens that this is also a top-25 matchup, so this win would mean a lot when selection time rolls around. Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament in 10 of the 11 years and it looks like Chris Mack’s team will be right back in the mix this year. That being said, Xavier’s best win might be at home against Utah back on December 10. While the Musketeers have played a tough schedule that includes Baylor and three ranked teams in conference play, they don’t have any signature wins as of yet. Matchups with Villanova and Butler are at home later this season, but this would be a big game to get.
Trevon Bluiett is one of the top players in this game. Bluiett has scored 17.2 points per game and has added nearly six assists per effort. His shooting numbers are down quite a bit from last season, so the junior from Indianapolis really needs to get it going because he’s living off of volume right now. Edmond Sumner has been dynamic for Xavier this season with 15.3 points and nearly five assists per contest. As a team, the Musketeers have struggled to shoot from depth and Sumner is part of that with just 11 makes on 39 attempts. JP Macura is a high-usage player and a leader for this team that has improved with more minutes this season. Xavier has only shot 39.6 percent in games away from the Cintas Center this season, so that’s a big concern here.
The reversal of fortunes in this rivalry could not have come at a worse time for Cincinnati. Both teams are in the national spotlight year after year, but a rivalry once dominated by the Bearcats has now gone the other way. This is only the third time that both teams have been ranked for the Crosstown Shootout, but the Bearcats were often ranked when Xavier wasn’t and Cincinnati once won 12 straight in this head-to-head battle. Head coach Mick Cronin has struggled in this rivalry with a 3-7 record, but it feels like Xavier put a higher premium on this game in some of the early years for Cronin. Now, it’s a huge game for both teams. Some may be wondering why the line is so big, but Cincinnati has won 19 straight at home, so there’s a significant home court advantage at Fifth Third Arena.
It’s a bit tricky to evaluate Cincinnati because the Bearcats played a pretty weak non-conference schedule and lost to the two best teams that they faced. A two-point win over SMU at home stands as the signature win of the season, but the last three games haven’t provided much of a challenge. One thing that does stand out about Cincinnati is that this is usually an offensively-challenged ballclub, but the team is shooting 48 percent from the floor and over 35 percent from deep, while still playing its hallmark defense. Jacob Evans is the leader with over 14 points per game and he gets help from Kyle Washington, who averages 13 and 7 in just 23 minutes per game, and leader Troy Caupain. Caupain and Kevin Johnson are two of the three seniors on this Bearcats roster that really need this one. The Bearcats have held the opposition to just 61.4 points per game and a 36.8 percent field goal percentage.
College Basketball Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats -5
Grab a five if you can find one because this number seems to be trending up at a lot of sportsbooks. Xavier hasn’t played very well against just about every good team that they have faced, but Cincinnati hasn’t been tested by many good teams. Cincinnati is a much more efficient offensive team than in past seasons, so they could be a bit undervalued because they haven’t played a tough schedule. This should be a tough, physical game, so the under at 136.5 is probably a reasonable look with two teams that play at average or lower paces.