Having rolled through the first seven games of the season, No. 9 Cincinnati finally faces its first true test of 2017 - and it’s a doozy. The Bearcats visit No. 20 Xavier in their annual Crosstown Shootout on Saturday afternoon - and the Musketeers will have revenge on their minds after dropping an eight-point decision last season.
Cincinnati has steamrolled the competition to date, coming into Friday with an average margin of victory of 30.6 points - second-highest in all of Division I. But coach Mick Cronin is keenly aware of just how different Saturday’s encounter will be, telling reporters following the Bearcats’ 83-51 rout of Alabama State: “We haven’t played anybody yet that’s been able to take our offense away from us, so to speak. And they’ll be able to do that. They’re not going to let us just throw the ball to Gary Clark whenever we want. It’s not going to be that easy.” The Musketeers look to restore their recent dominance in the rivalry, having won seven of the last 10 Crosstown Shootouts. They’re coming off an impressive 76-63 victory over No. 16 Baylor on Tuesday.
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ABOUT CINCINNATI (7-0): While much of the attention has been focused on a Bearcats defense that ranks among the Division I leaders (57.3 points against per game, seventh-best nationally), the offense has also been impressive. Cincinnati ranks inside the top 30 at nearly 88 points per contest, with Clark leading the way with 13.7 ppg; he has also been the Bearcats’ most versatile option, adding 8.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocked shots per game. The most dramatic improvement in Clark’s game has come at the free-throw line, where he’s shooting 88.2 percent after failing to crack 70 percent in any of his first three seasons.
ABOUT XAVIER (6-1): While the level of competition Cincinnati has encountered can be generously described as “not elite,” Xavier has already faced a pair of top-25 teams - dropping a 102-86 decision to Arizona State before breaking out to an early 21-8 lead and not relenting from there for a key victory over the Bears. Senior guard Trevon Bluiett paces the team in scoring at 19.7 ppg, and will be looking to get back on track after being held to 21 total points against Arizona State and Baylor. J.P. Macura picked up the scoring slack with 42 points in those two games, and is shooting a red-hot 59.3 percent from the field.
1. Macura knocked down 6-of-12 shots from 3-point range against the Sun Devils and Bears after going just 2-of-9 to start the season.
2. The Bearcats rank seventh nationally in rebounding at 45.4 per game.
3. Xavier is shooting 55 percent from the field; only Virginia Tech (56.1) has been better.
PREDICTION: Xavier 82, Cincinnati 75