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Top this: Xavier, Cincinnati share a city, hoops accolades

Top this: Xavier, Cincinnati share a city, hoops accolades
Posted at 6:56 PM, Jan 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-23 18:56:33-05

CINCINNATI (AP) — Only 2½ miles apart on the map, Xavier and Cincinnati are separated by one spot in The Associated Press' latest Top 10 — quite a coup for a city that values its college basketball almost as much as its unusual recipe for chili.

"It's been that way for a long time," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said.

Both teams are accustomed to success, but it's been a long time since they've both been so good at the same time.

No. 8 Xavier (18-3) and No. 9 Cincinnati (17-2) haven't been ranked in the Top 10 simultaneously since 1958. Few cities can boast of two schools so good together — teams are usually in different places in up-and-down cycles.

"It's pretty cool," Xavier's Chris Mack said.

In most college basketball hotbeds, schools' fan bases are separated by miles on the map. Not in Cincinnati, where Musketeers and Bearcats fans are intertwined and drive a nonstop hoops conversation, setting the bar high for both schools.

"I think you'd be lying if you said you weren't always sort of looking over to see what your counterpart is doing," Mack said. "You see all the things that are written about you around town, and you want to make sure you do your part and you're not forgotten about."

Cronin and Mack know all about the city's love for basketball. They grew up in town and attended the schools they coach, adding to the local spice.

Lately, Mack's team has been the more successful. The Musketeers have taken eight of the last 11 in their annual rivalry game with Cincinnati, including a 89-76 win in December. Xavier reached the Elite Eight last season; Cincinnati has failed to make it past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the last five years.

Cincinnati dominated the city's conversation with its championship teams in the 1960s and again after it moved into a new on-campus arena in 1989 and hired Bob Huggins as coach. That's when Xavier started its push to get back on the basketball map.

After Huggins was pushed out, UC's program fell on hard times and Cronin was brought in to repair the damage. Meanwhile, Xavier grew into a powerhouse after it opened its new arena in 2000. The Musketeers are 241-35 all-time at Cintas Center, including 13-0 this season.

When conferences realigned, the Musketeers joined the Big East, one of the nation's best from top to bottom. The Big East currently ranks third in conference RPI, behind the Big 12 and the ACC and ahead of the SEC. Xavier is No. 3 in RPI, behind Duke and Villanova.

Cincinnati had to settle for the American Athletic Conference , which is seventh in RPI behind the Big Ten and ahead of the Missouri Valley. Cincinnati is 24th in RPI with a strength of schedule that ranks 116th nationally.

The Bearcats are playing games this season across the Ohio River at Northern Kentucky University while their on-campus arena is rebuilt. Cincinnati puts the nation's longest active home-court winning streak — 36 games — on the line Wednesday night against Temple.

Oddly, the Bearcats will play only one game in Cincinnati this season — their loss at Xavier in December.

Bearcats fans wonder how much their team can improve while piling up wins against overmatched opponents. Cincinnati has faced only two ranked teams this season and lost to both — Xavier and Florida. The Bearcats might get only two more chances to beat a ranked team — they play No. 16 Wichita State Feb. 18 and March 4.

Xavier has developed into one of the Big East's elite teams, learning how to win in a league where there's no room for an off-night. The Musketeers have been ranked as high as No. 5 this season and they've been in the Top 10 for six weeks. Fans wonder if this is the year they finally get to a Final Four.

There's plenty to drive the talk in chili parlors for weeks to come.