Edmond Sumner FR (6-6, 183) vs Troy Caupain JR (6-4, 205)
Sumner is the only starter for either side that didn't play in last year's shootout. He's tied for third on the team with an average of 10.6 points per game to go with 3.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds. He hasn't had an issue with shying away from the spotlight in the big games as he played well at Michigan and had multiple big shots against Dayton, but his mettle will definitely be tested by this Cincinnati defense. The Bearcats are going to pressure him full court and make him handle the ball against a defense like he's never seen. In the halfcourt, his quickness and shooting ability could cause problems for the UC zone. Caupain is a physical guard that's at his best when using his strength to bully defenders off the bounce. However, this year's he's attempted more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. He's 17-for-31 (58%) from inside the arc and 13-for-43 (30.2%) from beyond it. After a slow start to the season, he's now averaging 10.2 points, 4.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 28.1 minutes per game after reaching double-figures in four of the last five outings. Last year, he finished with nine points (3-5 FG, 1-3 3PT), six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Shootout. Caupain has the edge in experience and seems to have a knack for making the big play, but Sumner is a superior athlete and may present some match-up problems for Cincinnati's zone.
Myles Davis JR (6-2, 188) vs Farad Cobb SR (6-1, 170)
Davis is the Musketeers' second-leading scorer at 11.1 points per game to go with 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He started off the year in a bit of a shooting funk, but has since recovered, hitting nine of his last 18 attempts from long range over the last four games. In last year's Shootout, Davis finished with 12 points (4-7 FG, 3-5 3PT) and four rebounds in 34 minutes. He's a tough guy to account for in a zone defense. Cobb is a small, streaky shooter with a little bit of athleticism. He ranks second on the team with an average of 10.9 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 21.9 minutes. He scored 20 in back-to-back games earlier this year against Bowling Green and Arkansas Pine Bluff. He started the season 16-for-26 from deep over the first four games, but has hit a cold streak over the last five, as he's gone 5-for-22 over that stretch. Even still, he's dangerous and can take the Bearcats' offense to the another level if the Musketeers let him get open looks. On the other end of the court, Xavier needs to look to attack him. If he's not scoring, he's rarely engaged on defense and can become a liability for Cincinnati. He finished with nine points (3-11 FG, 3-10 3PT), three rebounds and two assists in last year's Shootout. Both of these guys could be game-changers with their ability to shoot, but Davis is more consistent and impacts the game in more ways.
Slight Edge Xavier
Remy Abell SR (6-4, 197) vs Shaq Thomas SR (6-7, 210)
Abell is averaging 7.0 points, 2.2 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game. He's connecting on 34 percent of his shots from the field and 22.7 percent from 3-point range, currently. He's one for his last 10 from beyond the arc over the last six games. It is worth noting that two of his three double-figure scoring performances have come against Xavier's toughest opponents in Michigan (15 pts) and Dayton (11 pts). Last year, Abell finished with five points (2-3 FG, 0-1 3PT) and three rebounds in 27 minutes against UC. Thomas is a wiry athlete that has been a little more efficient with his playmaking this season for the Bearcats. He's averaging 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 21.0 minutes per game, which is actually slightly less than he played last year (22.5 mpg). He's coming off a season-high 15-point performance on 7-of-9 shooting (1-2 3PT) in Cincinnati's last game against Morgan State. However, the game before that he was a non-factor in the loss to Butler (5 pts, 2 rebs). He finished with eight points (4-7 FG, 0-1 3PT) and two boards in last year's Shootout. This matchup may seem inconsequential with both of these guys being more role players for their teams, but it could also lead to a big swing for either side. Both of these guys have playmaking ability and are capable of scoring in the mid-teens. If one does, and the other doesn't, that could make a huge difference in a game between two teams who seem to match-up fairly evenly.
Trevon Bluiett SO (6-6, 208) vs Gary Clark SO (6-8, 235)
Bluiett is averaging a team-high 15.9 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting, including 47.2 percent from 3-point range. He's coming off a career-high 22-point effort Tuesday night against Wright State. He was 7-of-12 from the field and 5-of-8 from distance. He also added 11 rebounds to give him his second straight double-double and third of the season. His confidence level seems to be at an all-time high with the way he's been shooting. Considering Cincinnati's struggles with Kellen Dunham in the Butler game, Bluiett has a chance to do some serious damage against the Bearcats' match-up zone. Last year in the Shootout, he only attempted two field goals, missing them both, and finished with two points and a rebound with two turnovers in 12 minutes. However, those two points were the game-winning free-throws. Clark is an athletic and coordinated forward that hasn't been aggressive enough or involved enough on offense for Cincinnati. He's averaging 9.8 points (64.7% FG), 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 26.6 minutes per game. He nearly led Cincinnati back in the second half of last year's Shootout, as he had his way against Bluiett in the post and finished with 14 points (7-11 FG), seven rebounds, two blocks, two assists and a steal in 36 minutes. He's coming off a double-double of 13 points (4-6 FG, 1-2 3PT) and 14 rebounds with five assists, two blocks and a steal in 28 minutes against Morgan State. It will be interesting to see if Xavier can match-up with him man-to-man this year when they're playing their preferred smaller lineup with Bluiett at the four. It'll be a chore for Bluiett to stop Clark in the post and keep him off of the glass, but Xavier can always just go bigger and put Reynolds on him. The Bearcats really don't have a good answer for stopping Bluiett at the other end.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Jalen Reynolds JR (6-10, 238) vs Octavius Ellis SR (6-10, 235)
Reynolds is averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game. He's scored in double figures in each of the last three games, despite not playing more than 16 minutes in any of them due to foul trouble and inconsistent play. Xavier coach Chris Mack said after the Wright State game that Reynolds' play isn't where it needs to be overall, adding that he's been too inconsistent throughout his career. While he's certainly been up and down, Reynolds has typically shown up in big games. In last year's shootout, he finished with seven points and five rebounds in 24 minutes. Ellis is the Bearcats' leading scorer and rebounder at 11.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game to go with 1.6 steals in 23.1 minutes. He's a long, athletic and tough presence in the paint. He does a good job of protecting the rim on defense, although he can be exploited off the dribble at times when he's forced to guard face-up players. On offense, he does a good job of sealing his man deep enough in the post to where he can either dunk the ball or finish with a left-handed baby-hook, and he's tough to keep off of the offensive glass. The emotions in this match-up are going to be a huge storyline for the game. These guys not only have to avoid picking up technicals for outbursts away from the play, but they also have to keep from fouling despite all the energy that comes with this rivalry.
Slight Edge Cincinnati
Xavier Bench vs Cincinnati Bench
James Farr (6-10, 244) has been Mr. Reliable in the post for Xavier. He's averaging 10.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 18.9 minutes per game; and he's stepped up in every game that Reynolds has struggled. His offensive rebounding could play a big role against Cincinnati's zone. He had seven points and three rebounds in 21 minutes last year in the Shootout. JP Macura (6-5, 203) has continued to be a consistent spark plug for the Musketeers' offense, but he's also making an impact in other areas. He's had eight rebounds and eight assists over the last two games, and he hasn't had more than one turnover since the second game of the year against Missouri when he had two. He hit a three pointer and had an assist in 14 minutes off the bench last year against UC. Makinde London (6-10, 210) saw a career-high 15 minutes in Xavier's win over Wright State on Tuesday. He nailed a step-back three, blocked three shots and had two rebounds in the win, but he also had four turnovers. For Cincinnati, Junior Kevin Johnson (6-3, 180) is an athletic guard that adds defense and streaky shooting. He's averaging 7.8 points on 36.2 percent shooting, including 31.8 percent (14-44) from beyond the arc, to go with 2.0 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. He had two points, a rebound and a steal in last year's Shootout. Freshman forward Jacob Evans (6-6, 210) has good skill and size. He's averaging 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game, while shooting 38.2 percent (13-34) from 3-point range. He looks like a promising talent, but he's still finding his way on the defensive end. Senior Coreontae DeBerry (6-9, 265) is a big-bodied center that has been giving the Bearcats good minutes off the bench. He's averaging 7.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game, while providing a nice boost as their top shot-blocker and defensive rebounder. Last year against XU, he had four points and two rebounds in 10 minutes. Freshman backup point guard Justin Jenifer (5-10, 175) is a small point guard that excels as a passer, particularly in the open court. He's always capable of the highlight reel assist, and brings an exciting style of play. He's also shooting the ball pretty well from the outside so far. He's averaging 4.8 points and 2.3 assists in 12.2 minutes per game, while shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. Xavier has more talent at the top of its rotation with Macura and Farr, but Cincinnati is getting a little more out of its depth with four significant contributors coming off the bench.
These are two good basketball teams, especially on the defensive end, and no result other than a Cincinnati blowout win would be surprising with this rivalry. The atmosphere should be amazing, the matchups setup well, and this game has huge NCAA tournament seeding significance. For UC, it's an opportunity to pickup a needed quality non-conference road win, and for XU it's a chance to add another bullet point to an already impressive resume in the Musketeers' sudden pursuit of a potential top four seed. There are so many factors that could sway the outcome of this game, but the most important seem to be Xavier's ability to hit open 3-pointers and Cincinnati's ability to rebound the ball on the defensive end. The Musketeers will get good looks against UC's zone - the Bearcats rank 226th in the country in defensive 3-point percentage (35.5%) - and if they knock them down early then Mick Cronin will have to make a tough decision about switching to man-to-man when his team has only played it 33 percent of the time this season and lacks a wing stopper to take on Bluiett. The Bearcats are big enough and tough enough not to get bullied on the offensive glass like Xavier does most of its opponents, but they have to make sure they do a good job of boxing out in the matchup zone. Cincinnati ranks 92nd in the country defensive rebounding rate, while Xavier's offensive rebounding rate ranks 18th. The Musketeers rank second in the country in defensive rebounding rate. But, if Xavier doesn't hit open 3-point looks early and Cincinnati cleans the defensive glass, then the Bearcats can play their zone without fouling. The Musketeers may find it much harder to score without trips to the free-throw line and second-chance points powering their offense.
Predicted Score: Xavier 68 Cincinnati 61