Allowing the Crosstown Shootout to continue is the right decision

Leave a comment

It looks like we’ll be saving at least one of college basketball’s best rivalries.

Missouri is leaving the Big 12 on less than ideal terms, meaning that their Border War with Kansas looks to be coming to an end, at least in the near future. Syracuse and Pitt are abandoning the Big East for the ACC, which means that Georgetown and West Virginia, respectively, will not be playing their biggest rivals in league play in the future.

The Crosstown Shootout, however, appears likely to survive.

“Every indication is that we are going to play next year,” University of Cincinnati president Greg Williams told Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer Monday. “We’re looking at it. (Xavier University president) Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”

“I haven’t changed my thoughts, nor do I believe Xavier has changed our thoughts at all,” Xavier AD Mike Bobinski said. “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue.”

A final decision has not yet been made — and it likely won’t for at least a month — but if all sides agree that the rivalry should continue, I’m not sure I see how it won’t.

And this, frankly, is a very good thing for both Xavier and Cincinnati, the city itself and college basketball as a whole.

The Crosstown Shootout is one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball. The teams and the fans genuinely dislike each other, which means that every game played between the two schools is is must-see TV. I, for one, circle the date of their annual battle on my calender the minute that the schedules are released. With both programs priding themselves on toughness and physicality, its no wonder that this matchup is always one of the most intense games of the season. Its a guarantee that every single article ever written about the game mentions, in some form, one of those three key words — intensity, physicality and toughness.

That’s why we tune in. That’s what we want to watch. Two teams competing that hard and wanting to win that badly is a rarity in college hoops in December.

And it was only a matter of time until that intensity boiled over. That happened on December 10th, when, with nine seconds left in the game, the jawing between Tu Holloway and Ge’Lawn Guyn erupted into a full-scale, bench-clearing brawl, complete with dozens of haymakers being thrown, a bevy of suspensions and one black and bloody eye, courtesy of a Yancy Gates sucker-punch landed on Kenny Frease.

Every year, at some point during the game, there would be a point in the game where there was some pushing and shoving. Technicals usually come early and often, and trash talk lasts the entire game. That’s what we want to watch. That’s why national writers descend on the city of Cincinnati every time the game is played.

And when you’re dealing with testosterone filled college kids that have their adrenaline pumping and their pride on the line on national television, it was only a matter of time until a fight broke out.

In no way am I trying to justify what happened on that day at the Cintas Center. It was an embarrassment to the sport and a black mark that each of the young men involved will carry with them for a long time. It was unacceptable. But the players aren’t the only ones to blame. The people that let the game and the rivalry get to that point — the referees that called the game too loose, the administrators and the coaches that let their players believe it was acceptable behavior in previous games, the media (myself included) that hyped the game because of its intensity — are also at fault.

In other words, we all want to see battles like that on the basketball court, and we all should have known the risks involved and what would happen if the game ever crossed that metaphorical tipping point.

And after what happened, I think it will be a long time before anyone lets it get to that point again.

So instead of getting rid of what could very well be the highlight of every season for the Xavier and Cincinnati programs and fanbases, the better option is to simply get back on the horse.

But do it right this time.

Call the technical fouls when players stat jawing. Use the bench to reinforce that pushing and shoving in unacceptable. Reinforce to everyone involved that what happened this year is unacceptable and simply cannot happen ever again.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all gotten in fights. Emotions are fickle, and there are times where they get the best of us. All of us.

Its what you learn and how you change afterwards that matters. And the best way to learn is to get right back on that horse.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.