The Bearcats have won eight out of their last nine, while
the Muskies have lost five of eight. Both teams had key players suspended and
UC found motivation in the fallout while Xavier has struggled to find the
identity that had them as a preseason top 15.
Mick Cronin’s hand was forced in instituting the new four-guard offense that has been so potent in UC’s recent run of form. UC big men Cheikh Mbodj and Yancy Gates had to sit six games for their parts in the post-game activities at the Cintas Center. The switch to the four-guard lineup has seen an increase in perimeter shooting, thanks in part to the ability of Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick to penetrate and dish. The athleticism of the Bearcats guards has also allowed for more full court pressure and increase in opponents turnovers. Sean Kilpatrick more than filled the void left by the loss of the Cincy bigs. He is shooting nearly 40 percent from distance and has been a ball-hawk on defense; Kilpatrick, Dixon and Wright combined are averaging six steals a game. The Bearcats have started conference play at 3-1 and sit in third place. They have victories over then No. 22 Pitt and No. 11 Georgetown. With a win against Villanova this weekend don’t be surprised to see UC back in the top 25.
Xavier on the other hand has responded poorly after the 23 point victory against UC. Perhaps the most significant loss for Xavier was the four game suspension handed to freshman Dez Wells, the teams third leading point scorer. XU was throttled at home by Oral Roberts, before going 1-2 at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Now with everyone back in the swing of things, the Musketeers have started to sort things out. A 28 point win against Duquesne on Thursday night has XU in second in the Atlantic 10 and pushing hard for a NCAA berth. If the past is any indicator, this XU team will gel at the right time and make a deep run during March Madness.