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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | January 26, 2017

Crosstown Shootout will come down to Xavier's depth

  Xavier secured a 10-point victory in the Crosstown Shootout last season.

There is no love lost between Xavier and Cincinnati. Separated by just three miles, the two schools have formed one of the most intense rivalries in college basketball over the past several decades.

These games aren’t always high-scoring. They aren’t always pretty. But they’re always competitive, passionate and entertaining.

Let’s break down the history of the Crosstown Shootout and preview Thursday night’s clash.

QUICK HITS

-All-time series record: Cincinnati leads 49-34
-Xavier has won 14 of the last 20 contests
-Cincinnati has two national titles; Xavier has zero
-The Bearcats won 12 games in a row between 1956-1967
-In the 24 years spanning from 1955-1979, Cincinnati won 22 of 24 meetings

In 1996, Lenny Brown hit a buzzer-beater to beat then-No. 1 Cincinnati on its home court. It prompted the call, ““The UC Bearcats are no. 1 in the country, no. 2 in their own city!”

Three years later, it happened again. In 1999, Cincinnati was the No. 1 team in the country – until it played Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout. The Musketeers defeated Bob Huggins, Kenyon Martin and company in a 66-64 thriller:

"Cincinnati and Xavier have created a rivalry that is unparalleled when it comes to outright passion and civic division,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has said.

Here’s what you can expect from the Thursday night edition.

Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN 2
No. 24 Xavier (14-5) at No. 19 Cincinnati (17-2)

What Xavier needs to do to win:

The Musketeers need to shoot from the outside like they haven’t all season long. In 2015-16, Xavier had a free-wheeling offensive attack that created numerous open looks; every player had to be accounted for by the defense, even if not everyone was a game-changer.

Xavier doesn’t have the depth it had last season, and it’s affecting its best best players; Trevon Bluiett is shooting a hair over 40 percent on the season, and Edmond Sumner hasn’t made the leap he was expected to. The Musketeers knocked down 36.3 percent of their triples a year ago. That number has sunk to 32.9 this season, which ranks 254th in the country.

If you can’t make them, don’t shoot them. Right? Maybe against most teams, but that won’t fly against Cincinnati. The Bearcats sport one of the stingiest interior defenses in the country; foes connect on just 40.3 percent of their 2s against Cincinnati, which is the second-lowest mark in the land.

The Bearcats don’t have any sky-walking shot-blockers. Kyle Washington and Gary Clark can protect the rim, but they’re not Anthony Davis. Cincinnati’s perimeter defenders are relentless and technically sound; Jacob Evans and Troy Caupain are menaces to opposing ball-handlers, and paint touches are a rare sight against the Bearcats. In a world where guys are picking up hand check fouls 30 feet away from the basket, Cincinnati’s guards are proof that there is something to be said for a player shuffling his feet and moving laterally with ease.

Malcolm Bernard is making 39.6 percent of his 3s for Xavier, but he could stand to be more assertive; opposing defenses don’t treat him like a 40 percent 3-point shooter. That’s probably because he’s only launching 2.8 bombs per game. That Bernard/J.P. Macura spot is huge for the Musketeers, because it makes their stars’ lives easier when they’re humming. Xavier really needs one of its B-level guys to step up tonight.

The Musketeers have been decent defensively this season, and the Bearcats aren’t going to overwhelm you with firepower. This game will be decided when Xavier has the rock and is trying to solve Cincinnati’s sixth-ranked defense.

What Cincinnati needs to do to win

If the Bearcats do what they’ve been doing all season long, they’ll win this game. Cincinnati is at home, Xavier has never looked quite right this season, and the Bearcats’ defense is a chore to puncture.

Cincinnati’s winning formula has always been as follows: a great defense propping up a below-average offense. This season, the Bearcats are scoring at a respectable rate; Mick Cronin’s squad is ranked 55th in the nation in offensive efficiency, its highest mark since 2010-11.

MORE: Why there are no nights off in the ACC

One of the biggest reasons why is Washington, an immovable rock on the defensive end that scores from all three levels on offense. Washington is making 42.1 percent of his 3s this season; for a Cincinnati offense that seemed like it was stuck in the stone ages for the majority of the past decade, this is a promising development. The Bearcats are able to play four-out basketball, with do-everything point guard Caupain captaining the ship.

The Bearcats appear to have an answer for Xavier’s two best players. Cincinnati’s bigs are quick enough to hang with Bluiett when the Musketeers use him at the four; he’s had trouble exploiting those mismatches all season long, anyway. Caupain is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and though Sumner can slash against just about anyone, Caupain will make life difficult.

One place Cincinnati might be susceptible: the Bearcats love to crash the glass – they’re retrieving 37.9 percent of their own misses this season, good for 10th in the country. But Xavier doesn’t allow second chances. It ranks third this season in defensive rebounding rate, and one way to rev up a struggling Musketeer offense is to let Sumner get out in transition. Cronin might be wise to advise his squad to retreat after its shot attempts tonight.

It’s Xavier. It’s Cincinnati. It’s the Crosstown Shootout. The Super Bowl is in a little over a week, but for folks from the Queen City, Thursday night is one of the biggest games of all.