Thursday, January 28, 1999

For UC and XU, this is personal

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier's Lenny Brown goes to the basket against UC's Melvin Levett in 1997 game.
(AP photo)
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        The Ratings Percentage Index computer ranks them ahead of 311 Division I college basketball teams. The NCAA selection committee ranked them ahead of 56 teams that made last season's 64-team tournament. But for one more night at least — at least — the Cincinnati Bearcats are No.2 in their own city.

        This is the distinction the Xavier Musketeers earned with their victory in last season's Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout (or, for that matter, their victory in the Shootout before that).

        This is the distinction No. 5-ranked UC (18-1) will attempt to remove from the Musketeers (15-4) beginning at 9:30 tonight at the Shoemaker Center.

        “It's personal,” said Bearcats forward Pete Mickeal, “because I see their guys sometimes, and they're kind of looking like, "We're the best team in Cincin nati.' Well, I want to change all that, so when they look at us, they don't have that little smart smirk on their faces.”

        Xavier has enjoyed being No.1 in the city for better than two years, but the fact the Bear cats went on to enjoy higher rankings in the final polls and higher seeds in the NCAA Tournament has taken some of the delight from the Shootout victories.

        “When we first beat them, they thought it was a fluke,” said Musketeers senior forward James Posey. “Then last year, we beat them by 20, and they still thought it was a fluke. So this would be the icing on the cake and just let them know that the team that beat them three times in a row is for real.”

        Xavier would love to legitimize its 10-game winning streak by claiming its first ranked victim in that run. Because the Atlantic 10 Conference is not experiencing its best season, the Musketeers have not been able to break into the Top 25 even as their record has surpassed many of the teams included.

        The Bearcats need to win to avoid the obvious local repercussions, but also to maintain their top five ranking and their progress toward a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

        As each pursues its goals, these are some of the prominent elements of the game that will help determine the outcome:

        • Xavier's pressure defense vs. the UC press-break. This is the most obvious aspect of the game, the one that buried the Bearcats in last year's meeting at the Gardens. They committed a season-high 29 turnovers, only two removed from a school record.

        UC committed 38 turnovers in its past two games, up from an average of 12 per game, partly because of aggressive offense but also because of sloppy play.

        “They were quick to the ball everywhere last year,” said UC forward Ryan Fletcher. “It seemed like every pass we threw, regardless of where we threw it, they contested it. We had a real problem with that.”

        It does not seem as if UC has faced as much pressure defense this season as last, when West Virginia, in the NCAA Tournament, also defeated the Bearcats with fullcourt defense.

        “I think we have. I really think we have,” coach Bob Huggins said. “Duke, early, we were pressed. Rhode Island pressed us early. We probably played against more pressure this year than what we did before, it's just that people have gotten out of it because it hasn't done them any good.”

        • UC's penetration vs. Xavier's halfcourt defense. The Bearcats have been at their best when Mickeal and shooting guard Melvin Levett drive the ball into the lane and get shots onto the board.

        Each one makes a high percentage of those shots, and they also force defensive reaction that clears teammates such as Kenyon Martin and Jermaine Tate for offensive rebounds and tip-dunks.

        “To this city, we'll be looked down upon if we lose,” Mickeal said. “Xavier dominated the past couple of years, so I just want to come out, have a good game and really set the tone early. I feel like if I set the tone, we'll have a great game.”

        • UC's offensive rebounders vs. Xavier's block-outs. The Bearcats do a lot of damage by pulling the ball off the glass to restart their offense or, more often, scoring on follow shots. This is why UC wins as often as it does shooting under .470 for the season.

        The Bearcats are likely to get some baskets in this fashion as a result of their athletic ability, but Xavier could limit the number by being fundamentally sound.

        “We have to rebound and keep them from getting two or three shots,” XU coach Skip Prosser said. “We can't allow seven, eight or nine stick-backs.”

        • Xavier's drive-and-kick scheme vs. UC's on-the-ball defense. The Bearcats, principally guards Michael Horton, Steve Logan and Levett, need to prevent guards Lenny Brown and Gary Lumpkin from advancing the ball into the lane and drawing in the defense, then passing it back behind the three-point line for open shots.

        Brown and Lumpkin also may get shots from teammates' screens, as did Southern Mississippi's Neil Reed and UNC Charlotte's Diego Guevara. But Prosser does not want to give up on the idea of scoring inside, despite UC's strong defensive presence with Martin, Tate and 6-10 Ryan Fletcher.

        “We have to have poise in the post,” Prosser said. “We have to make quick moves, but not too quick. We're not going to win by just shooting jump shots.”

        The Crosstown Shootout, though, is as much about emotion as execution. This is the element of a rivalry most difficult to predict.

        Each team must manage its intensity, but to show up without it would be devastating.

        “If you have the fans in there screaming their heads off, going absolutely crazy,” Levett said, “you have no choice but to go in there and go absolutely crazy.”

        A team that struggles to apply its game plan in a game such as this, however, is susceptible to fear and its game-wrecking relative: Panic.

        UC has won 27 consecutive games at the Shoe. This is mostly the team, but partly the building.

        “There's not a fear factor,” Lumpkin said. “There shouldn't be any fear. We've got guys on our team who want to win, and I think we'll come out and play hard and we'll be fine.”

        Huggins and Prosser both maintained their preparation was no different for this game than for a typical conference game, but neither meant it entirely. In the A-10 or Conference USA, the opponent is not five miles down the road.

        Huggins knows his team has lost this game twice in a row. There is revenge to be pursued.

        “I'm sure if we were in their shoes,” Prosser said, “we'd feel the same way.”

- 'Let's get ready to rrrrmmmmbbbbllll'
For UC and XU, this is personal
Sure it's too big, but that's why it's fun
Harrick's analysis: XU 'certainly underdog'
UC asks OK to delay tipoff
Xavier front line must bring its 'A' game
Couples in Crosstown cross-fire
Rivals join hands for Crosstown Helpout

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shootout logo
Xavier (15-4) at
Cincinnati (18-1)

• 9:30 tonight.
• UC's Shoemaker Center (13,176).
• Radio: WLW-AM (700); WKRC-AM (550).
• Line: UC by 13.
• Series: UC leads 43-22.

Today's coverage
'Let's get ready to rrrrmmmmbbbbllll'
For UC and XU, this is personal
Sure it's too big, but that's why it's fun
Tim Sullivan column
Harrick's analysis: XU 'certainly underdog'
UC asks OK to delay tipoff
Xavier front line must bring its 'A' game
Crosstown Notebook
Couples in Crosstown cross-fire
Rivals join hands for Crosstown Helpout

Previous coverage
Huggins keeps focus on court
Huggins era in review
Xavier seniors hold 2-1 edge
'Shootists' don't share fanaticism
Shootout Notebook
UC's Land fighting uphill battle
XU's McIntosh schools 'em
UC was option for XU's Frey
Another XU win would be divine
Shootout goes coast to coast
ESPN disregards Xavier and UC fans
Shootout Notebook
Shootout 'bigger than the calendar'
Crosstown highlights

Season's coverage