This coming college basketball season all fans should be concerned, the reason being that one of the game’s greatest rivalries could become endangered. And I’m not talking about polar bear endangered, I’m talking full on black rhino endangered. Now all you ACC and Big 12 elitists can go ahead and cool your jets because we aren’t talking about any rivalry within your conference. You think Duke and UNC is the greatest rivalry? In the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s yes you clearly had a dog in the fight; these days those teams are made up of all freshman, they’re too busy trying to remember how to take advantage of their meal plan to be concerned with the team up in Chapel Hill and vis a versa. Kansas against anyone in the Big 12? Stop it. Watching Kansas play anyone who would consider themselves a rival is like watching Jason Statham pistol whip a blind kid. Louisville and Kentucky? Close, the hatred of this in state rivalry runs deep and is well documented but the last time things were interesting Cousins was there. Back in those matchups refs were giving out techs like free samples from that one restaurant in every mall’s food court. These all can be categorized as second tier when compared to what truly takes the cake is the premier rivalry of the past decade, and that rivalry is none other than Xavier and Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout.
First things first as a college basketball purist I refuse to call this rivalry anything outside of its birth name, Crosstown Shootout. So rest assured you won’t hear any of that “Crosstown Showdown” nonsense here. You’re probably wondering why Xavier and Cincinnati could possibly be categorized as one of the greatest rivalries in recent memory. First lets lay out what we all are looking for when we start to rank these games. One, there should be some bad blood. No rivalry is truly a rivalry if the two teams don’t sit up at night dreaming about humiliating the other team in every way possible. Two, there should be parody, there needs to be an actual toss up from year to year in regards to who might win the game. Once upon a time rivalries like Kansas and Missouri were competitive but I’m pretty sure the last time that was the case Bob Knight had a reality show about walk-ons (shame on everyone involved in that production). Finally, there needs to be a certain level of showmanship. A wise man once said “I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly, I was the best because the crowd loved me…win the crowd.” When you have players that are going to play to the crowd and make sure they give the fans a show and have that ESPN montage they have been advertising all week live up to the hype; then you know you have the pieces necessary to complete what makes for a great rivalry.
Xavier and Cincinnati have for a long time now been quietly meeting these criteria. The problem is these games are like Easter Eggs in a video game, if you aren’t looking for them you ain’t gonna find them. These games are almost always on a Saturday afternoon sometime after Thanksgiving (this year is no different as the game is on December 8th at 2pm) and the teams are always ranked in the middle of the pack with someone being between 10 and 15 and the other being at the lower end of the rankings at 23-25. The memorable games go back as far as 99’ when Xavier upset then #1 Cincinnati and while this is all fine and dandy it pales in comparison to what this rivalry has evolved into. Under the most recent regimes of Mick Cronin with Cincinnati and Chris Mack at Xavier, the rivalry has evolved into a dress rehearsal for a spectacle that is a cross between The Purge and WrestleMania.
“We’re grown men over here, we got a whole bench of gangsters in the locker room…and we went over there and zipped them up after the game.”
No boys and girls that is not an excerpt from a Stone Cold Steve Austin monologue, that is a direct quote from a player after the Crosstown Shootout in 2011. With Xavier up by 21 with 9 seconds left and trying to run out the clock things got spicy. Two players who had been going back and forth since the national anthem got in each other’s faces and as if choreographed slapped each other almost simultaneously after they had had enough. Both benches cleared and like an old school baseball melee, chaos ensued. The only true victim was Xavier big man Kenny Frease who took a right cross square on the side of his head. Frease then proceeded to do his best impression of the crawl Carlton did through the kitchen on Fresh Prince when he thought Will killed Lisa (treat yourself and look that up on YouTube). Trust me though if you ever saw Kenny Frease play you wouldn’t feel bad for him, he was the Bill Laimbeer of the 2010’s. Even this past year we got some extracurricular activities as the final buzzer sounded. At the end of the game this past season Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin had to be restrained as he was seen on camera rushing the Xavier players yelling “You want a piece of me mother f***er?!?!” Now, the player Cronin was ready to go fisticuffs with was none other than Xavier’s JP Macura. If you’re wondering who in God’s name is JP Macura, imagine Greg Paulus, Adam Morrison, Sophomore Grayson Allen and Marshall Henderson all conspired together in a lab and built their dream player, yea that’s JP Macura. If you weren’t an Xavier fan you hated him, if you were a Xavier fan you loved that they hated him. During this most recent meeting Macura in true showman form was involved in a double technical with Mick Cronin right before half after telling him to “suck it” and let’s just say I am cleaning up his wording tenfold. As the game went on Macura continued to talk trash as they extended their lead (Xavier was clearly the better team this past year). When the game ended Macura gave one last dig in the handshake line and it was enough to send Cronin into a frenzy. The post-game interview was where he let the press know exactly why he lost it, “Never had a kid tell me to ‘F off’ before.” Is what he told reporters when they asked what was said. They followed up with who it was that said it and Cronin only had one response, “You know who it was, same guy it always is every game.” Chris Mack went on to back his player in true presidential fashion by saying there are two sides to every story and JP Macura is a good kid who just loves to play the game. He did however say that he planned on using the rest of the day to enjoy this particular win over Cincinnati a little bit more than usual.
As entertaining as this rivalry has been in recent memory it is in danger of losing its WWE Smackdown appeal. Now that Chris Mack is in the 502 (that’s Louisville) there is a chance that there may not be the same fire that we have seen from these two teams in the past. The two reassuring facts are Mick Cronin is still at Cincy and that man doesn’t seem like one who drops a grudge anytime soon; second the new Xavier head coach, Travis Steele, was a former assistant under Mack so he knows what the standard is. He also still has many of the players recruited by Mack so the team Motto very well may still be “Zip’em Up” but only time will tell. On another note my prayers now heavily consist of requests for that same level of gladiatorial mystique to find its way into the Louisville and Kentucky rivalry now that Chris Mack is behind the wheel. If we have seen the last of the old school Crosstown Shootout it is our responsibility to keep its memory alive and stay on the lookout for another pair of teams who desire to elevate their rivalry to a level of savagery that will meet our needs. But if things are destined to stay the same, make sure you have your schedule cleared for this year’s matchup as it never disappoints.