CINCINNATI -- When Trevon Scott arrived at the University of Cincinnati in 2015, the Georgia native already knew to expect something crazy to happen in the annual Crosstown Shootout with Xavier.
Scott, a 6-8 redshirt junior forward, had seen highlights of the 2011 matchup known famously for the bench-clearing brawl that ensued at the end of the game. He couldn’t wait to be a part of such an intense rivalry, one of the greatest in college basketball because of the mere two miles that separate the schools.
Now, Scott is preparing for his first Crosstown Shootout as a starter, and as much as the Bearcats and Musketeers try to believe it’s “just another game,” they know it’s not. Cincinnati (8-1) hosts Xavier (6-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday for the first meeting between the teams in the newly renovated Fifth Third Arena. It’s also the first of record for new Xavier coach Travis Steele after spending the past 10 matchups as an assistant.
Standing room tickets only were going for $50 this week.
“I knew how close the schools were, and I saw some of the highlights from the brawl that one year, so I was smart enough to know that this game was going to be crazy,” Scott recalled of his knowledge of the Shootout before arriving at UC. “(My first thought was), 'What am I getting myself into over here?' Nah, I'm just playing. But it told me how physical the games were and how much the guys really want to win the game. They got into a brawl trying to win, so it shows how much each team cares about the rivalry.”
The series has always been physical between UC and Xavier, no matter the records or rankings attached to either school, and you can almost always expect some trash talk or backhanded comments directed toward the opponent before, during or after the game.
The fire of the 2011 Shootout was fueled two days before when UC guard Sean Kilpatrick told WQRT’s Andy Furman that Xavier’s All-American guard Tu Holloway probably wouldn’t start for the Bearcats. Technical fouls and verbal exchanges in the first half led to warnings from the officials, and Holloway began shouting at Cincinnati’s bench after giving the Musketeers a 76-53 lead with 18.6 seconds to spark confrontation that led to the brawl.
It seems rare not to have some kind of heated exchange. Last year there was a clash in the handshake line between Cronin and Xavier’s J.P. Macura, which Cronin said was based on Macura telling him to “eff off” three times during the game.
There’s no love lost between the schools, that’s for sure.
“Obviously, it’s a big game,” Steele said when asked about how he feels going into the game. “It’s one of the best games in college basketball and I’ve been at Ohio State and I was at Indiana and obviously the rivalry games with Indiana versus Purdue, Ohio State versus Michigan, but there is nothing like Xavier versus Cincinnati. There is nothing, and our guys are going to be excited to play.”
The drama for this year’s meeting already might have begun.
Social media went abuzz Thursday after Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin in an interview with local media made an ill-received comment about former Xavier player Kerem Kanter, who was averaging 6.0 points per game going into the Shootout last year and scored 17 on the Bearcats. Kanter finished with 10.9 points per game and a 58.4 percent shooting rate.
Cronin’s comments came in response to a question about how he avoids “something strange” from happening on or off the court with this game, to which he said, “To be honest with you, I just try to think about basketball, and we need to get a win.
“As far as strange things that happen, I'm going to leave that to other people,” he continued. “Strange things that happen that bother me are guys making shots that never make shots. Enes Kanter’s brother (Kerem) getting 17, making three 3s, that's a strange thing. That's the strange stuff I worry about. All the other stuff, you've got to find a way to win the game. We've got 48 more hours to find a way to win this game.”
Xavier has dominated the series in recent history, winning four of the last five, seven of the last 10 and 13 of the last 19, but UC still leads the all-time series 50-35.
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Last season, then-No. 21 Xavier picked up an 89-76 win over then-No. 11 Cincinnati in front of a Cintas Center record standing-room only sellout crowd of 10,817 fans. The Musketeers went on to finish 28-5 as the No. 3-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25, and Cincinnati finished 30-4 at No. 6.
“We've got to get a win,” Cincinnati senior guard Cane Broome said. “It would be something special for this team. Last year was so special but this could be something this team can accomplish that last year's team didn't.”
Broome said this year’s matchup doesn’t feel as heated going in as last year when both teams were ranked but it’s still a game every player has circled on the calendar.
The Shootout has somewhat of a different feel to it in part because both teams are in a bit of a rebuilding mode after losing key players from last year’s historical campaign.
Cincinnati, which has won eight straight since opening with a loss to Ohio State, is led by returning starter Jarron Cumberland (14.9 points per game). Scott (11.0 ppg, 6.4 rebounds per game), Keith Williams (10.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Nysier Brooks (7.9 ppg) have elevated as new starters, and Broome is chipping in 10.6 points off the bench.
Xavier sophomore returning starter Naji Marshall leads the team with 13.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while new starter Paul Scruggs adds 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. Junior returning starter Quentin Goodin, who is battling injury, contributes 12.3 points per game and 4.3 assists.
Steele called it a great opportunity for his new players to experience the Shootout for the first time on the road. Cronin said the newness of the atmosphere for so many young guys would be more worrisome if neither program had been tested yet, but that’s not the case.
The coaches just have to make sure the players don’t get caught up in their surroundings.
“If you're not focused and you're worried about everything else going on around you, which goes on on the road in different crowds or at home if you get distracted, you're not going to play your best,” Cronin said. “You've got to focus on what's going on between the lines, because that's what decides the game. The other stuff is all ancillary.”
The Bearcats have a clear advantage in terms of the atmosphere as the home team. They hold an 8-5 advantage in games played at the Fifth Third Arena, but then again, Cronin is well aware of his recent resume against the crosstown rival.
His daughter Sammi -- who was born in 2006 when Cronin became UC’s coach -- reminds him what’s at stake.
“Everybody that wants me to win this game, they are way down the list,” Cronin said. “One through 10 is Sammi. She goes to Catholic school. It's a Montessori school, Mercy Montessori School, it's the best school in the city and every teacher was trained at Xavier. That's the only place you can be trained in Cincinnati to get a Montessori certificate, so that's what she deals with. ... She didn't used to care.”
Cronin won his first matchup with Xavier, 67-55, at home, and Steele’s predecessor, Chris Mack, won his first Shootout, 83-79 in double overtime at the Cintas Center in 2009.
Steele said this isn’t about him, though, and he views it no differently than when he was an assistant.
“When you are a coach, whether you are an assistant coach, video coordinator or director of basketball operations, you do everything in your power to win the game and you are focused on the present, whether it’s that four-minute war, that’s how we break down every single game,” Steele said. “It’s about winning that possession, winning the war and embracing it. I tell all our guys, it’s a players’ game. Don’t look at the bench, you cannot flinch. Have fun, compete. It will be a game you remember the rest of your life.”