Friday, December 14, 2001

Crosstown Shootout notebook

It's even a huge event for ESPN

By Neil Schmidt and Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It took ESPN until three seasons ago to televise the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout, but now it's a love affair. ESPN officials have said the Shootout is on ESPN to stay, and the network is promoting the game now more than ever.

        It is again sending its top announcing team of Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale. Analyst Jay Bilas insisted he come along to do sideline reports. The Wednesday night SportsCenter included a package about the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry. ESPN Classic is airing the 1999 Shootout at 3:30p.m. today.

        “I'm really excited about coming in for the Shootout,” Vitale said. “I've been extremely impressed with the atmosphere, the enthusiasm. It's a great rivalry.”

        Here's Vitale sizing up the matchup:

        “You've got a young, bright coach in (XU's) Thad Matta. It's sort of a statement game for him and his kids. It's a situation where a win over Cincinnati would be a major way of getting instant credibility with the fans, the media — everybody in town.

        “With Cincinnati, this Bob Huggins team is a lot better in terms of its effort defensively than people know about. They really get after it. I think a lot of people were anticipating a down season, but Bobby has them playing well.”


        XU has won thrillers each of the last three times Vitale was courtside. It beat UC 69-67 last year at Shoemaker Center, beat UC 66-64 the year before at Cincinnati Gardens, and beat Temple 62-60 at the Gardens in the previous season.


        Despite their recent success against UC, some Musketeers spoke about needing another victory to ensure respect.

        “Cincinnati kind of gets all the hype in the media, all the press time,” XU center David West said. “You know — they're "the Bearcats.' Guys take it as a pride thing to give an unbelievable effort against them.”

        Some Muskies have groused about their lack of televised games thus far. This will be the first of five national TV games for XU.

        “This is the time to make a statement,” XU guard Dave Young said. “Our goal is to get in the Top 25, and this would be a quality win.”


        This is the first Shootout on XU's campus since Feb. 5, 1949, when UC won 71-64 at Schmidt Fieldhouse. All ensuing XU home games in the series have been played at either Cincinnati Gardens or Firstar Center (formerly Riverfront Coliseum).

        Several Musketeers said they expect unprecedented fan support tonight.

        “It'll be unreal,” West said. “The fans will do everything in their legal power to keep us from losing this game.”

        XU has a 35-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents. UC was the last nonconference team to beat XU at home, a 99-90 decision at the Gardens on Jan.17, 1996. XU is 16-1 in Cintas Center and is 71-4 (.947) at home the past six seasons.

        There have been six games played on XU's campus, all at Schmidt, and the teams split those meetings. The first one was Schmidt's inaugural game, a 29-25 XU victory on March 7, 1928. That was also the first game in series history.


        This is the first Shootout since the 1991-92 season in which neither team was ranked at tipoff time. UC would climb into the rankings later that season en route to the Final Four.

        UC is on the fringe of the rankings, receiving the 26th-most votes in the Associated Press poll this week.


        A few things to ponder regarding tonight's game:

        • Xavier players have had classes this past week and have final exams next week. They had to take a day off Tuesday, then had two days to practice. UC players are on winter break. They have been staying at the Marriott Kingsgate Conference Center near University Hospital and have had unlimited time to meet and practice.

        • Former Xavier assistant coach Mark Schmidt, who scouted UC the past seven years, is the head coach at Robert Morris. The new Xavier coaching staff essentially has started from scratch with assistant Sean Miller doing the scout.

        • UC started over, too, to a great extent. Assistant Dan Peters took over the scout but can't exactly study last year's tapes for anything but individual tendencies. Skip Prosser is now coach at Wake Forest and new XU coach Thad Matta has introduced his own style of play. “I think they're a lot different,” UC coach Bob Huggins said. “By and large, Skip wanted to play fast and more uptempo where Thad is more of a halfcourt guy. They run more sets, and they work more at running halfcourt sets.”


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