The Cincinnati Bearcats are looking to keep their record perfect as they prepare for rival Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout on Thursday at 5/3 Arena.
A Look At X
The Musketeers enter the Shootout with a record of 8-4, and have seen the roster depleted to 9 remaining scholarship players due to injuries to Brad Redford and Jay Canty along with Justin Martin being ruled academically ineligible for his freshman season. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin knows Xavier will still be tough to beat because of the strength at the top of their roster.
“I'm really impressed with the development of (Tu) Holloway, (Jameel) McLean and Kenny Frease,” Cronin said. “Those guys are decidedly better than they were a year ago and they were good players a year ago. McLean is one of the best rebounders in the country, Frease has become a scoring weapon and Holloway is playing as well as anyone in the country not named Kemba Walker.”
While Xavier looks primarily to their starting five for production the Bearcats can go 11 deep and not see much of a drop off in results. The key for Cincinnati will be to use that depth to wear down their opponent, but that will be easier said than done.
“We obviously have a deeper team, that goes without saying,” said Cronin. “The key for us is to make that an advantage. It's not like this is foreign territory to Xavier. They know that their opponents, because of their injuries, is deeper than them.”
In order to wear down X the Cats will need to use their depth and pressure based defense as often as possible, but it's not like dealing with the adversity is new to the Muskies this season. Xavier will try to grind the game out in the half court and make scoring as tough as possible for UC.
“They've practiced negating that for 6 weeks,” said Cronin. “They do it by playing great defense. Our biggest challenge is to score the basketball. If we can score then we can press, and then our bench comes in to play. We've got to make sure we can play the game at our pace.”
Senior forward Rashad Bishop is entering his 4th and final Shootout, and he knows the end result goes far beyond playing the game out on paper. If the Cats want their first win in the series since Cronin's first season, it will be about leaving it all on the floor.
“It's always going to be intense,” Bishop said. “You've got to play that game with your heart, you can't go out there and play that game any other way because the Xavier team, the fans they're heart's all in it.”
Holloway The Key
Tu Holloway has been the go to guy for Xavier all season, and he enters the game scoring 21.3 points per contest. The most impressive part to Cronin is that those numbers are consistent even though opponents know he is the go to guy every night.
“He's a great player with the ball in his hands” said Cronin. “It's not like people don't know that who prepare for him and he continues to put up 20 plus points every night.”
Cincinnati point guard Cashmere Wright knows his counterpart's game well, and he has been impressed with the progress Holloway has made since arriving at Xavier 3 seasons ago.
“I like his game personally” Wright said. “You can tell he's been doing things and his game has improved since he got to college. His pick and roll game has improved, like how he gets to the hole and gets fouled. That's a big part of his game.”
Getting to the charity stripe might be what Holloway does best among his array of skills. In 12 games he has been to the free throw line 114 times and connected 96 times. His shooting overall is solid at 46% from the floor and 32% from the perimeter, but the best way to limit his production is to keep him from racking up numbers at the stripe.
“You've got to keep him off the foul line because he's going to make free throws,” Cronin said. “He averages 10 plus free throws a game, so if you don't keep him off the foul line he's going to get 10 points right there and then he's going to get 20 for sure. He's going to get 5 field goals because he's going to play 38 minutes unless he gets in foul trouble. He's going to get 20 if you foul him. That's easier said than done because he's adept at drawing the foul.”
Seniors Last Chance For Victory
One thing you never want to experience as a competitor is not getting a win over your crosstwon rival, and that's what the 5 Bearcat seniors face on Thursday night. Bishop knows he and his fellow classmates need to put their experience to used and get that win before leaving the program in the spring.
“It's going to be big for us because everybody's been through it,” said Bishop. “It's our last year going against Xavier so everybody knows what to expect going in to this game so it makes it a lot easier.”
Coach Cronin didn't have to look far back for an example of what it means to not beat an opponent in your career as this group had not defeated Seton Hall before the win on New Years Eve. That said, it's not like much is needed to get the team ready to play Xavier.
“We had that same talk at shoot around before the Seton Hall game,” said Cronin. “Raise you hand if you've beaten Seton Hall. Only three people raised their hand. Myself, Larry Davis and Darren Savino. I don't think I'll have to ask that question, but I was just making sure our guys were focused for Seton Hall. If I've got to get my team motivated for Thursday night I've got real issues.”
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