By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
When Xavier battles the No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats in the Crosstown Shootout, it will see a balanced scoring attack that mirrors its own.
The Bearcats return seven players who were major contributors from last year’s Round of 32 team, adding two quality freshman.
Octavius Ellis will demand the majority of attention with his 11 points per game (ppg) output, while seven other Bearcats average over seven ppg. Ellis, the 6-foot- 10 senior forward, averages nearly a double-double and possesses the post moves necessary to be effective against Xavier’s deep frontcourt. Gary Clark, who averages 9.8 ppg and 8.2 rebounds per game (rpg), will give head coach Mick Cronin another weapon in the post.
Xavier will counter with Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, both of whom have the athleticism to slow down Cincinnati’s inside game.
Cincinnati also has a talented backcourt in their arsenal.
Troy Caupain leads the Bearcats with 4.2 assists per game (apg) as the floor general for an offense that thrives on ball movement. Caupain averages almost five three-point attempts per game, but his ability to finish inside is of paramount importance to his 10.2 ppg production.
Farad Cobb, the 6-foot-1 guard, complements Caupain and adds another scoring threat at 10.9 ppg. Cobb gives the Bearcats a threat beyond the arc by converting on 43.8 percent of his threepoint attempts. Freshman Jacob Evans has also shown the ability to spread the floor by knocking down four three-pointers against Butler in the team’s only loss.
While Cincinnati has a balanced offense, its stout defense sets the tone for Mick Cronin’s side. The Bearcats are top 10 in scoring defense with opponents netting only 58.4 ppg. Cincinnati’s opponents have been held to 36.1 percent from the field, which also ranks top 10 in the nation. Ellis and Clark combine for 3.2 blocks per game, while Coreontae DeBerry gives Cincinnati another option inside if it runs into foul trouble.
Cincinnati’s blend of experience and talent will make it one of the most evenly matched opponents the Musketeers have faced this season.
Shaq Thomas, the 6-foot-7 senior forward who averages 8.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg, has seen significant playing time since his sophomore year and isn’t averse to big moments. Thomas, along with senior Octavius Ellis, will be prepared for the emotional swings that are in the fabric of past Crosstown Shootouts.
Xavier will have to be efficient on offense to overcome the stingy Bearcats defense, but they have the pieces to do so.