Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Troy Caupain SR (6-4, 210)
Caupain is a tough guard that does a little bit of everything for the Bearcats. He's averaging 10.8 points (43% FG, 33.3% 3PT), 5.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in 32 minutes per game. A lot of his scoring comes from spot-up jumpers, but he's also UC's only threat to make plays off of ball-screens. He's been very efficient in transition this season. Defensively, he's solid and puts in a great effort, but he's not the most physically gifted player. Sumner did a great job of staying in attack mode the entire game last year against Cincinnati. Even when he wasn't scoring, he was disrupting the Bearcats' defense. Caupain, in particular, seemed to have a lot of trouble keeping him in front when he was on him. Sumner is averaging 15.3 points (47.9% FG, 28.2% 3PT), 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in 33.8 minutes per game. His shoulder injury is a factor and Cincinnati is sure to play rough with him, but the Musketeers need him to get paint touches to jump start their offense. If Xavier wins this game, there's a good chance Sumner was the difference-maker.
Slight Edge Xavier
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Kevin Johnson SR (6-3, 185)
Johnson is an athletic guard and an excellent defender. He's averaging 8.8 points (39.5% FG, 31.8% 3PT), 2.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.4 steals in 28.8 minutes per game. While his shooting percentages are poor for the season, he's been much more efficient with his jumper recently. He's shooting 42.9 percent (15-35) from 3-point range during conference play. For the most part, he does all of his damage with spot-up jumpers or transition opportunities. He spent time defending Myles Davis, Macura, and Sumner last year. Expect him to spend most of Thursday night on Macura and Sumner. Being a Cincinnati kid that is currently 0-3 in the Shootout, he's going to want this game more than anyone on the floor. Macura has been Xavier's "big moment" guy in the past, though never before in this rivalry and he's also struggled with inexplicable mental lapses in big moments at times this year. It will be intriguing to see which player X gets in this one. Plus, seeing his rivalry with the UC student section blossom should be entertaining. He's averaging 14.5 points (42.4% FG, 34% 3PT), 4.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.8 steals in 32.4 minutes per game. Despite an 0-for-4 performance on Sunday against Georgetown, he's been shooting the ball better from deep (37.5%) in conference play.
Slight Edge Xavier
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Jacob Evans SO (6-6, 210)
Evans is Cincinnati's best player. He's an athletic wing with good size that shoots it well from three. He's averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game to go with 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals in 30.4 minutes. He's shooting 50 percent from the field and 41.3 percent (33-80) from 3-point range. More of his points (91)have come off of transition opportunities than any other play type this season. On the other end of the court, he's been challenged by guarding many opposing teams' best scorers and he's performed well. Bernard has been playing his best basketball over the last five games or so. He had 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting (2-4 3PT) with three rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes against Georgetown. Bernard is well-positioned to play hero in this game for XU. He benefits from not being a primary threat in the offense by getting a decent amount of step-in, spot-up jumpers. He's shot well all year for X and the Musketeers are going to need someone to make some threes in this game. Assuming he draws the Evans matchup on defense too, which seems likely, he could single-handedly swing this game in Xavier's favor if he's able to lock up the Bearcats' young star. That's a lot to ask and may be unreasonable, but it's a storyline worth at least keeping an eye on throughout the evening.
Moderate Edge Cincinnati
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Gary Clark JR (6-8, 225)
Clark is a hard working forward with a well-rounded game that finishes well in the post. He's averaging 9.8 points (57.5% FG, 27.3% 3PT), 6.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game. He's also the team's best offensive rebounder, so X will have to make sure they keep him from getting second-chance points. On the other end of the court, he's an excellent defender. Last year, these two players canceled each other out with equally crappy performances. Both did a good job of defending the other. Bluiett has a tendency to force tough jumpers in big games, making it tough to find a rhythm on offense, which is exactly what he did in the UC game last year. He seems to be much better off when he starts the game looking to get into the flow by creating or drawing fouls off the dribble. He's averaging 17.2 points (40.8% FG, 32.6% 3PT), 5.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 33.6 minutes per game. Xavier needs its best player to play well in this game or it's going to be extremely difficult for this team to pull off a road win.
Slight Edge Xavier
RaShid Gaston SR (6-9, 239) vs Kyle Washington JR (6-9, 230)
Washington is a skilled scorer with a unique arsenal for a big man. He's averaging 13.4 points (53.5% FG, 42.1% 3PT), 7.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 23.5 minutes per game. His go-to move in the post is an uncanny hook/flip shot that he's comfortable sinking from several feet off the block. He also likes to face-up and shoot jumpers from the mid-range or deep. Defensively, he can be a liability at times. He doesn't like contact or physicality at all. He's not a bad rebounder, but in a game with nothing but big boys working on the glass, he might be the weak link. Gaston is definitely Xavier's best defensive option for Washington out of the true bigs. If Gaston has trouble, it wouldn't be a surprise to see X go smaller and put Kaiser Gates on him. Gaston is averaging 7.3 points (56.9% FG) and 6.6 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game. Offensively, Xavier's bigs haven't been a big part of the gameplan this year, but it might be a necessity in this game. The Musketeers have to at least try and take advantage of Washington's defense in the post. Also, look for Gaston to get after it on the offensive glass as Cincinnati is a poor defensive rebounding team.
Moderate Edge Cincinnati
Xavier Bench vs Cincinnati Bench
Freshman Jarron Cumberland (6-5, 218) is a big-framed wing that's provided an offensive spark off the bench for the Bearcats. He's averaging 6.1 points (44% FG, 36.2% 3PT), 2.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 16.1 minutes per game. He's made a noticeable impact when he's been on the floor because he promotes a much faster style of play on offense. He's a great outlet passer and he has an extremely quick trigger. In the halfcourt, most of his points come on spot-up jumpers, but he's good at using his big body to attack downhill when he catches the defense before it's set. Defensively, he doesn't maneuver well laterally and could be a target for the Musketeers' wings to attack off the dribble. Redshirt freshman Tre Scott (6-8, 225) is an athletic forward that has carved himself a role off the bench as a high-energy, undersized four that can run the floor, rebound, and defend. He's averaging 4.7 points (53.7% FG) and 3.8 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game. Sophomore Justin Jenifer (5-10, 175) is a small point guard with a tight handle and some playmaking ability as a passer. He's averaging 3.9 points (41.8% FG, 34.3% 3PT) and 2.2 assists in 14.9 minutes per game. Defensively, he plays hard but is very limited physically. Xavier needs to attack him and make the Bearcats pay for putting him on the floor. Cincinnati has two reserve centers that play spot minutes. Nysier Brooks (6-11, 240) is a freshman defensive specialist and shot-blocking presence, while Quadri Moore (6-8, 230) is a junior with a face-up jumper. Brooks is averaging 2.7 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.4 minutes per game. Moore is averaging 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in 8.7 minutes per game. He's 6-of-13 from deep. For Xavier, Kaiser Gates and Sean O'Mara would seem to be the key names to watch out for in terms of potential "surprise star in the Shootout" candidates. Gates is easy to forget about from an opposing defensive perspective and he has the potential to provide XU with the outside shooting this team so desperately craves. O'Mara may find the matchup against Washington (or even Clark if they go small) to his liking on the block, as both of them are much lighter. On the flip side, this game may be too fast for him on the defensive end. Freshman Quentin Goodin will likely play a limited role, but he has to be ready for big minutes at all times right now with Sumner playing through his shoulder injury. It will be fun to see how he handles the Shootout atmosphere for the first time.
Slight Edge Cincinnati
Cincinnati is ranked 18th overall in the country according to KenPom.com. The Bearcats are ranked 55th in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency. Xavier is sitting at 29th overall, 34th in offensive efficiency, and 36th in defensive efficiency. While XU is the more efficient offensive team, the biggest concern for the Musketeers heading into this game has to be whether or not they'll be able to knock down shots in a hostile environment on the road when they haven't really shown that ability all season. The Musketeers may be able to gain an advantage on the glass - UC ranks 187th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. However, the Bearcats are a threat on the offensive glass where they grab 35 percent of their misses, which ranks 36th in the country. Xavier ranks third in defensive rebounding percentage and 54th in offensive rebounding percentage. Expect Cincinnati to play a lot of its switching man-to-man defense. The Bearcats have played about 60 percent man this year and 40 percent matchup zone. Xavier is more talented at three of the five positions on the floor, but the Musketeers' top three players haven't lived up to their billing in big games this year, especially away from the Cintas Center. For that reason, this feels like Cincinnati's year… but we know how that goes in this rivalry.
Predicted score: Cincinnati 67 Xavier 64