CINCINNATI -- I'll take UC.
That has not been a wise selection in the Crosstown Shootout the last couple of years.
Xavier has beaten its crosstown rival three straight times and seven of the last nine. A lot of those haven't even been that close.
XU plays a much tougher league schedule now that the Muskies are in the Big East. And the Muskies arguably have the best two players in the game in Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett.
Still, I think it's UC's year. That's largely based on three things:
1. The Bearcats have the better inside game. Most teams are hard-pressed to run out one good post scorer. UC has two in Kyle Washington and Gary Clark. Washington and Clark are also good passers for big men, which makes the inside game all the better.
2. UC's two seniors -- Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson -- have never beaten Xavier. That should bring motivation by the boatload. And Johnson is one of few local players on either roster.
"I want it real bad," Caupain said. "I know my squad wants it real bad, but we've got to take it one game at time. We're playing to win. We're not going to let the hype of this game affect anything."
3. The game is at Fifth Third Arena. UC has won three of four on its home court.
I love the Crosstown Shootout. It's the best athletic event of winter here. Both sides tend to downplay it a bit. But UC coach Mick Cronin kind of, sort of, admitted the game was big.
"I'm thankful to be there to coach at Cincinnati," Mick Cronin said Tuesday. "Obviously, this game is part of being the coach at Cincinnati -- whether you like it or not."
Cronin later said the game is as big as any to former players.
"The calls I get are predominantly from former players," Cronin said. "I tell the players, if you respect the guys who came before you, you better do everything you can to win. I get it every year. And it's not just the week. I could run into a guy in May, and he'll be, 'Hey, man, you've got to beat them next year.'"
The game means a tremendous amount to both sides. That can bring out the best and worst in players and coaches.
I was courtside for the Pete Gillen-Bob Huggins handshake game. That's still one of the greatest moments in local sports history. It was a harmless little spat between two coaches who didn't like one another.
The brawl in 2011 was the darkest moment for the rivalry. I'm glad the game has lived on, and I'm glad it moved back to the campuses.
The home court will be a huge advantage for UC. But the Bearcats are going to have to play well to win. That starts with Caupain and Clark. Caupain was held to three points on 2-for-9 shooting at 3 range in last year's 65-55 loss. Clark did not score. UC has to get more out of those two.
The Bearcats also have to keep Xavier's guards -- Sumner, Bluiett and J.P. Macura -- from going off. UC must be happy that Myles Davis left the XU program. Davis killed the Bearcats last year, scoring 17 on 3-for-4 shooting from 3 range.
UC has to match Xavier's intensity.
"In a game like this, the battle for every loose ball may be more heated," Cronin said. "The battle for rebounding position may be a little more physical. So, yeah, you better be prepared for that. You'd be foolish not to be prepared for that."
Cronin is impressed with Xavier despite its recent three-game skid.
"I can't believe what their conference did to them as far as the schedule with three games in a row at Villanova, at Butler and then having to turn around in two days and play Creighton," he said. "The schedule can impact the record, but the truth is on the film. They are who everybody thought they were. They're really good."
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.