UPDATED 10:06 a.m., 19 December 2012
At the exact moment when the right fist of Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates connected with the jaw of Xavier’s Kenny Frease and sent him crumpling to the ground last Dec. 10, there was ignited perhaps the ugliest on-court moment in the history of college basketball.
During the seconds in which that chaos ensued—a bloodied Frease riling up the crowd at center court as the dust settled—it was difficult to process in that instant all of what would eventually be said about what took place.
The postgame press conference only exacerbated the problem.
School officials allowed guards Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway to answer questions by themselves in front of a media that was digging for answers. Still high on adrenaline, it appeared, Holloway called his team a collection of “gangsters” and said the Musketeers “zipped [Cincinnati] up” at the end of the blowout victory.
And now, just over one year later, Xavier and Cincinnati meet for the first time since that indelible blemish left its mark on the crosstown rivalry.
The name has changed, and so have many other things in 374 days.
For Xavier, Holloway, Frease and Lyons—three key players in the brawl–are all gone. Holloway and Frease have graduated and Lyons is playing out his last year of eligibility at Arizona.
For Cincinnati, the man who threw the vicious right-handed punch that floored Frease, Yancy Gates, has graduated. Then-freshman Octavious Ellis, suspended in the wake of the brawl, was kicked off the team for his role in a nightclub brawl earlier this year.
The tables have turned in the polls, as well. Last season, No. 8 Xavier beat Cincinnati, 76-53. This year, coach Mick Cronin and his No. 11 Bearcats look to keep their undefeated record intact against an unranked Xavier team.
But, perhaps most importantly, are the measures that were spurred by the brawl itself.
The 2012 game will be played at a neutral court, U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, moving the location away from either campus. The focus for Cronin, though, wasn’t on the impact the neutral site will have on the rivalry, but the impact it will have on his team’s preparedness down the stretch.
“It readies your team for postseason because that’s where the NCAA tournament is,” Cronin said, as reported by the AP. “They’re played at big arenas, downtown arenas at neutral sites. I think it’s great for the city that we’re playing down at U.S. Bank Arena, but at the same time I think it’ll be advantageous for both of us come March to have a game like this at a neutral site.”
And the passing time has allowed both teams to reflect on what happened.
“It was a regrettable moment,” Xavier coach Chris Mack told the AP. “We lived that a year ago. As an educator, someone who mentors players, the message has been that we need to learn from what happened a year ago. And I think our kids have.”
Mack even dismissed some of the national perception of the game.
“The animosity that people outside the region perceived is not the case,” Mack told the AP. “And we have to make sure that’s highlighted when we play on Wednesday night. It’s going to be a hard-played game, it always is. But it’s got to be one that’s played the way it was played in the past, and it will be.”
Away from the background leading up to it and focusing on the game itself, the contrast Wednesday night will be between the teams’ backcourts.
For Cincinnati, it’s about experience. Upperclassman duo Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combine to average over 34 points and five assists per game. Added to that is JaQuon Parker and the Bearcats will have the offensive focus in the backcourt Wednesday night.
By comparison, Xavier has been paced by the play of freshman guard Semaj Christon, averaging 15.4 points and 5.4 assists per game. Not only has Christon been a surprise standout for the Musketeers, but he has been one of the most impressive freshman at the mid-major level and in the country.
“Everyone on their team is very talented and very good as well,” Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick said, as reported by the AP. “Their starters are as good as our starters and their bench can be as good as our bench. We don’t know how it’s going to be, but it will be a great matchup.”
For a collection of other major moments in the Crosstown Shootout/Classic rivalry, click here.
A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Xavier-Cincinnati as the “Crosstown Shootout”. The name has been changed to the “Crosstown Classic” for the 2012 edition of the game.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_