Cincinnati certainly made a statement tonight.
The Crosstown Shootout is as intense as any rivalry in the country, and outside of Louisville and Kentucky, it is probably the fiercest non-conference rivalry in the country. Remember last year? Two fights, nearly a bench-clearing brawl, Lance Stephenson screaming in Chris Mack’s face, and two overtimes.
And just like Tennessee did Memphis last night, the Bearcats humiliated Xavier. They beat the Muskies 66-46. They held X to 39.1 percent shooting from the field. They dominated the glass. Tu Holloway, Xavier’s leading scorer at 21.3 ppg, had just five points on 2-13 shooting as well as a techinical foul he picked up for throwing an early elbow.
This game was a must-win for Cinci. Xavier makes up almost their entire non-conference slate. Its the first team the Bearcats have beaten with a national profile.
The problem is the kind of statement that Cincinnati made.
Xavier looked awful. And while a large part of that was a result of Cincinnati dominating on both ends of the floor, it only adds to the idea the the Musketeers are a long way from where they were last season.
Xavier did not play like a tournament team. They didn’t even play like an Atlantic 10 contender.
The danger in beating a team currently in a free fall this badly is that margin of victory will be blamed on the losing team, not credited to the winning team.
In other words, Cincinnati convinced people that they would be one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 with this win, not the Big East.
I’m on the road to being converted. Yancy Gates looked fantastic against Xavier, going for 22 points, 14 boards, and 2 blocks and establishing position anywhere he wanted. The problem? Gates tied his season-high for both points and rebounds; he only plays when he wants to play. Dion Dixon had 16 points, Cashmere Wright was able to get into the paint, and Cinci’s role players played like, well, role players.
Cincinnati is definitely better than I gave them credit for coming into the season.
I’ll decide just how good after they head to Philly to take on Villanova on Sunday.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.