CINCINNATI - It's time yet again for the annual Cincinnati tradition on the hardwood: The Crosstown Shootout.
The annual Xavier University Musketeers vs. Cincinnati Bearcats matchup is always hotly-contested, regardless of how either team has performed at the point in the season during which they play.
Xavier is ranked No. 8 in the country and UC recently fell off the Top 25 radar with two unexpected losses to Presbyterian and Marshall.
On paper, it looks like this one belongs to Xavier, but as mentioned, all paper bets are off for this one.
But there are some keys to victory for each team.
For Cincinnati, it's defense. If UC can play the lockdown interior defenses they've played in the past few years, they have a real shot of keeping Xavier on their heels offensively. Where Xavier falters is when they can't get their guards inside. If XU's guards can't get to the hoop, then there's no steady Muskie offense.
The Bearcats were able to do this last year, holding XU to just 46 points, securing a victory.
For Xavier, it's their big guys.
Xavier averages 41.1 rebounds per game, 20th in the country, with the help from a backcourt that attacks the hoop with high-quality jumping ability (no pun intended). But with Cincinnati's long lineup, including 6'9 Yancy Gates at the forward position with 9.1 rebounds per game, Xavier will have to rely on their bigger men down low to box out and secure rebounds.
Musketeer fans will agree most rebounds by their big men this year have caused some minor heart attacks whether they've been successful or not, but if they can keep that in check and secure the rock, avoiding second chance points for the Bearcats, they'll have the upper hand.
The tipping point for both teams will be Kenny Frease.
Coach Mack has been patient with Frease, giving him time to shine each game, but thus far Frease has only mildly embraced it.
Well, this is it Kenny.
If Kenny Frease can step up in his last Crosstown Shootout and own his position in scoring, passing and rebounding, then XU has the best shot at winning this year's rivalry game.
If Frease doesn't show up, turns the ball over in double teams down low, can't post up for his shots and doesn't secure his rebounds, then all UC has to worry about is keeping Xavier's guards away from the paint, while they steadily build points off of what scrappy offense they have in Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon.
Frease needs to have a presence down low so Xavier can open up the lanes of the court for Lyons, Holloway and Wells to move in and out of to score.
The game airs on ESPN2 at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are still available on stubhub.com, but fans would be better off parking themselves at their favorite watering hole to hold their breath during this one due to the steep prices for the seats that are left ($84!).