I don't really know why I feel compelled to do this. It's not like I post blogs guessing the outcome of the other games UC and Xavier play. If you're like me and you take sports guesses about as seriously as I take diets, then you're not even reading this.
And if you're the kind of person who does take sports guesses seriously, puts a lot of stock into them, enjoys telling people who make sports guesses that they're wrong, and most importantly, gets upset when the person making the sports guess makes one that you don't agree with, then I don't even really want you reading this.
Anyway, here goes. I'm wearing a Bengals t-shirts, a pair of old Phoenix Suns shorts, and a Winnipeg Jets hat as I type this...
Between UC and Xavier, I believe the Bearcats - right now, and those words are important - have the better, more well-rounded, deeper, basketball team. They have no major weaknesses, they have a lot of ways to beat opponents, and while they're far from a finished product and while I hesitate to talk about them in the grand terms that some UC fans love talking about them in (I don't love the point guard situation right now, and again, those two words are important), I really, really, like this basketball team.
But they haven't been tested. None of their first seven opponents has provided much resistance, and while Buffalo, whom they played in they Cayman Islands did push back a little, UC has been able to cruise past all comers so far, in part because they are very, very good.
But therein lies what's most interesting about this year's Crosstown Shootout. The Bearcats haven't been pushed, and while the XU game kicks off a brutal four-game stretch over the next two weeks, their opposition hasn't tested them.
I wouldn't go as far as to say the Musketeers have played as difficult schedule as some XU fans would suggest - Wisconsin's record could be skewed by having played what I would say is a difficult schedule (the Badgers have lost to Baylor, UCLA, and Virginia, as well as the Muskies), and Arizona State has played one other high-major team, although like they did against XU, the Sun Devils are scoring loads of points against everybody, they have gone on the road to play in a charged-up atmosphere, they played a team from a power five league on a neutral floor, and they hosted a Baylor team that's expected to play in the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight year.
The Muskies have faced pushback, resistance, and in the case Arizona State's Tra Holder, a guy losing his mind against their defense.
So this year's Shootout is a battle between tested and un-tested. Which one passes?
What does this particular UC team do when (not if) Xavier goes on a run with the Cintas Center crowd going nuts? What do the Bearcats do against a tall team willing to use its size to stand up to them? What happens if a Cincinnati team that hasn't quite found the perfect pace at which to play gets to playing a little too fast? What does UC do if they build a lead only to have XU erase it?
I don't know. I do know that until I have some kind of answer, if I'm asked to guess, I'll side with the tested team.
Especially when they're at home.
The last time UC won at the Cintas Center, Marvin Lewis was more than a year away from being named the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Reds still had another season to go at Riverfront Stadium. The length of time between Bearcat wins on Xavier's home floor is exacerbated by the fact that the game is played at UC every other year, and by the silliness that was playing the game at US Bank Arena for two years, but the Bearcats have played every kind of game at the Cintas Center since winning the Shootout the first time it was played there, and they've lost every time.
Cincinnati doesn't have the market cornered on struggling to win at the Cintas Center, of course. XU has won 87% of its games since moving from the Gardens, having established one of the best, most intimidating homecourt advantages in the sport (if you're a UC fan, you're lying if you haven't thought that it'd be ideal if the new Fifth Third was like the Cintas Center). Maybe this particular Bearcat team is like that 2001-'02 squad that didn't get a riff about imposing opponent gyms, and stormed into Xavier's new building and won by 20. I hope they are. But with a UC Cintas drought well-established, and only three Bearcat wins on XU hardwood over the past 25 years, I'll believe the Bearcats are winning at the Cintas Center when I see it.
Trevon Bluiett didn't need to be at home to deliver an iconic performance in last year's Crosstown Shootout. His first half, on the way to 40 points for the game, is the best 20 minutes I've seen an individual player play in UC/XU series history. I don't think he'll get 40 against Cincinnati this season, but I do think he's the best offensive player on either team, and the one guy on either squad most capable of getting buckets on his own when his team is desperate for them.
He's also coming off two subpar shooting performances that I don't think will turn into three.
I know I'm making this sound as if UC can't win, and if you're a Bearcat fan, you're getting ready to send me the Tweet wondering if I really do share you're rooting allegiance.
First off, I do. Second, it's far from far-fetched to suggest that the ninth-ranked team in the country can win today. A typical UC defensive performance can disrupt any team in college basketball (ask me how I feel about that statement at 9pm next Saturday), and if Cincinnati owns the glass like they're capable of, they're very capable of winning this game. I worry about the turnovers, and I wish I was more in love with the current point guard situation (that's no knock on Justin Jenifer, whom I was very, very wrong about), butif UC gets a dominant Gary Clark and an aggressive Jacob Evans, then UC can get their first Cintas Center win of the Marvin Lewis/GABP era.
For that to happen, then the unexpected Xavier hero that always seems to do something unexpected when the Muskies win the Shootout needs to not make an appearance. I've wondered what's more likely, Quentin Goodin channeling Dee Davis and making a bunch of threes or Sean O'Mara putting up a double-double, tossing in a back-breaking putback to seal the game.
But I think this game is determined by stars. Trevon Bluiett is a star. He's playing at home. His team has been tested.
I'll guess the Muskies win 71-66.