December 11, 2015

Xavier and Cincinnati have had some memorable - and at times contentious - games in one of college basketball's most intense rivalries.

But when the 12th-ranked Musketeers host the No. 23 Bearcats on Saturday, it will be the first time in nearly 22 years the intracity foes meet as ranked teams.

Only once in the previous 83 editions of the Crosstown Shootout have both schools resided in the Top 25, when 22nd-ranked Xavier topped No. 19 Cincinnati 82-76 in overtime on Jan. 19, 1994. With each off to soaring starts, the ramifications have extended beyond mere local bragging rights.

"As a player you live for games like this, so I'm looking forward to it," Cincinnati guard Farad Cobb said.

The Bearcats likely have a little extra motivation in their first visit to Cintas Center since the teams engaged in an ugly on-court brawl near the end of a 76-53 Xavier win in December 2011. Cincinnati has lost six of eight to the Musketeers and was dealt a second straight defeat in the series with a 59-57 setback on Feb. 15.

The 2011 melee, which triggered suspensions for eight participating players, prompted the annual showdown to be held two straight years at downtown Cincinnati's U.S. Bank Arena before returning to campus sites last season.

Reversing the Musketeers' recent success won't be easy, as Xavier has outscored opponents by an average of 19.2 points during a 9-0 start that's one win shy of the program's best set in 1996-97. The Musketeers are 7-0 in the Crosstown Shootout when ranked and have won the last five matchups on their home court.

Xavier has scored at least 90 points in three straight blowout wins, the most recent Tuesday's 90-55 rout of Wright State. Trevon Bluiett had a career-high 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double, and the sophomore guard is shooting 47.2 percent from 3-point range after going 5 of 8.

"He's the guy that's a (matchup) problem and because of him, other guys are a problem because of the way you have to defend him," Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. "They have a great player on offense that forces teams to pick their poison on defense."

Bluiett made two go-ahead free throws with 11.5 seconds left and the Musketeers shot 52.6 percent in last season's meeting. They shot 56.4 percent in a 64-47 victory over Cincinnati in December 2013, with both rates the highest the Bearcats have allowed in each of those seasons.

Cincinnati (8-1) is holding opponents to 36.1 percent and 58.4 points per game this season, though its last four have shot 44.6 percent on 3s.

''I'm extremely frustrated right now with our identity as a team," Cronin said following Sunday's 87-66 win over Morgan State. "Our identity right now is to play offense. I don't know if I have one guy on my team that if you asked their role on the team, his immediate answer would be: I give us toughness and defense.''

Xavier coach Chris Mack has been more pleased with his team's performance on that end. The Musketeers have held their six of their last seven opponents under 41 percent.

''We're a better defensive team than we've been in a long time," he said.

The Musketeers will face a balanced Cincinnati offense that contains eight players averaging at least 7.3 points. Six finished in double figures against Morgan State.

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