Rivalry Breakdown: Xavier vs. Cincinnati
With barely four miles between them, Xavier and Cincinnati have had more than enough friction to generate one of the most intense series in college hoops. It’s much more than just a local story, too, with both participants making routine appearances in the Top 25, as well as the NCAA tournament.
Xavier was the team riding high in the polls two seasons ago, when the No. 8 Musketeers routed Cincy 76-53 in 39 minutes and 50.6 seconds. All the attention, however, went to those last 9.4 seconds, left unplayed after a bench-clearing brawl that nearly caused the annual showdown to be taken off the schedule for the first time in 70 years.
Read on for more of the contentious history of the Crosstown Classic (formerly Crosstown Shootout), along with all the players, games and moments that have made the Queen City a haven for hoops fans.
Wins: Xavier 32, Cincinnati 49
Conference championships (regular season only): Xavier 17, Cincinnati 27*
NCAA tournament championships: Xavier 0, Cincinnati 2
Consensus All-Americans (first team): Xavier 1, Cincinnati 6
NBA players produced: Xavier 17, Cincinnati 31
*Xavier was an independent until 1979-80. Since 1979-80, Cincinnati has won 11 conference championships.
Xavier’s All-Time Starting 5
C David West
PF Tyrone Hill
SF James Posey
SG Byron Larkin
PG Tu Holloway
Holloway, third in career assists for the Musketeers, was also the third player in school history to make an AP All-America team. Larkin is the school’s all-time leading scorer, and he’d have had even more than 2,696 points if the three-point arc had been around his first two seasons.
Wooden Award finalist Posey, a lockdown defender in college and pros, averaged more steals over three years than any Musketeer in history.
West and Hill (really center/forward hybrids) are the best of an embarrassment of low-post riches, each boasting at least 2,000 points and 1,300 rebounds in a Xavier uniform. West, the 2003 AP Player of the Year, also holds the school record with 228 blocks.
Cincinnati’s All-Time Starting 5
C Danny Fortson
PF Kenyon Martin
SF Jack Twyman
SG Oscar Robertson
PG Nick Van Exel
The wide-bodied Fortson, really more of a PF himself, gets a close call over oldster Connie Dierking on the strength of his lofty career numbers (fourth in UC history in scoring, 873 rebounds). Martin, a fearsome dunker even by Bearcat standards, ran away with every national Player of the Year trophy in 1999-2000.
Often forgotten now, Twyman was a Hall of Famer who could score (17.8 points per game, fifth in school history) and rebound (1,242 boards, second) at 6’6”. The reason he’s forgotten is that Robertson immediately arrived to shatter all his records as the best scorer, rebounder and everything else UC has ever seen.
Van Exel, the first big star of Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati career, arrived from the JUCO ranks to lead a Final Four run in 1992 and dominate for two years as a passer, scorer and defender.
Most Iconic Coaches
When Pete Gillen took over as Xavier’s head coach, the program hadn't won an NCAA tournament game in two appearances. Five years later, he’d made the Big Dance five straight times and led upsets of Kansas State and Georgetown during a 1990 Sweet 16 run, the high point of his record-setting 202-win career.
With apologies to Bob Huggins and his 399 wins (a Cincinnati record by leaps and bounds), there’s a reason his last few Bearcats teams played their home games on Ed Jucker Court. Jucker (who had helped take UC to two Final Fours as an assistant) replaced George Smith and immediately won two national titles, followed by an extraordinary fifth consecutive Final Four appearance.
He amassed an .801 winning percentage in five seasons with his alma mater.
Most Memorable Games
3. Cincinnati 79, Xavier 69 (1966)
Lest anyone suspect that the physical nature of this series is a recent development, the good old days had plenty of bad behavior, too. A 1966 overtime contest—the last of 12 straight Cincinnati wins—resulted in 57 fouls and saw Musketeer Joe Pangrazio grab a crutch from a fan in the stands so he could throw it at Bearcat Raleigh Wynn.
Little wonder that both were ejected.
2. Xavier 76, Cincinnati 53 (2011)
The Crosstown Shootout became the Crosstown Classic (and nearly became the Crosstown Defunct) thanks to the end of a largely meaningless game. Tu Holloway led unbeaten and eighth-ranked Xavier to an easy 23-point win, but things got ugly in a hurry once the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Holloway and UC’s Ge’Lawn Guyn came to blows first, though Bearcats center Yancy Gates was the biggest firebrand, throwing a ball at Holloway and a serious punch at center Kenny Frease. In all, four players from each side were suspended for a combined 30 games, but the series went on uninterrupted the following December.
1. Xavier 83, Cincinnati 79 (2009)
The No. 19 Bearcats needed to erase a 10-point second-half deficit just to force overtime against the unranked Musketeers. Lance Stephenson had a chance to win it at the end of the extra session, but when he couldn’t find the range, the game went to double OT for the first time in rivalry history.
Even in the extra session, Xavier couldn’t exactly pull away. Luckily for the Musketeers, though, senior Jason Love chose this game to play like Kevin Love, grabbing 19 boards and putting the win on ice with a key free throw in the final seconds.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Xavier Fan
In 1964, Cincinnati was just over a year removed from its third straight appearance in the national title game, and the Bearcats roster still featured several vets of the 1963 runners-up.
What Ed Jucker's team didn’t appear to have was anyone who could guard Steve Thomas, who set a Xavier series record with 45 points.
After all that, though, he still needed two more. Ron Bonham’s 35 points helped the Bearcats take a late lead, and Thomas—bidding for the game-tying bucket—got whistled for traveling to hand the game to UC.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Cincinnati Fan
In Kenyon Martin’s award-laden senior season at Cincinnati, he lost only twice (excluding the C-USA tournament game in which he played just three minutes before breaking his leg). One of those came against 15th-ranked Temple (then in the midst of a 13-game winning streak), and the other against a Xavier squad that wouldn’t be ranked all year.
The NIT-bound Musketeers still needed some luck to escape with the win, even after hanging right with UC for 40 minutes. Kevin Frey scored four points in the last 30 seconds to give the Musketeers just enough cushion to escape with a 66-64 win.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Xavier
Pretty much every opponent who had to face Cincinnati in the late 1950s learned to hate Oscar Robertson. The Big O was one of the greatest pure scorers in college history and one of the greatest all-around players in basketball history.
Unsurprisingly, that combination didn’t go well for his team’s biggest rival. Robertson went 4-0 in his career against the Musketeers, averaging 32 points per game in the series. Amazingly, that means Xavier actually did better than average against the Hall of Famer, who tallied 33.8 points on a typical night in his Bearcats career.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Cincinnati
As the fifth-leading scorer in Xavier history, Lenny Brown got his share of points against the Bearcats through four meetings. The ones everyone remembers, though, came in his sophomore season in 1996-97.
Cincinnati, with Danny Fortson in the starring role, came into the game as the nation’s No. 1 team, but Brown’s unranked Musketeers gave the Bearcats all they could handle. In a tie game with 3.4 seconds remaining, Brown drove past three-point marksman Darnell Burton, pulled up at the foul line and buried a game-winning jumper at the buzzer to hand UC its first of just eight losses that season.
Xavier’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
By 1996-97, coaching icon Skip Prosser had had a couple of years to mold his program at Xavier. From that season to the present, the Musketeers—including backcourt star Romain Sato—have owned this series.
Xavier has won 12 of the last 18 games in the head-to-head matchup, appearing in more NCAA tournaments and winning more conference titles than the Bearcats in that span.
Xavier has also made a pair of Elite Eight finishes and five Sweet 16s (both far outstripping UC’s postseason performance).
Cincinnati’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
Few programs not named UCLA can even touch the run Cincinnati achieved starting in 1957-58. The Bearcats made five consecutive Final Fours and three straight title games, winning it all in 1961 and 1962 (when Paul "Duke" Hogue manned the middle).
Cincinnati was absolutely destroying its biggest rivals, running off a series-record 12 wins in a row against Xavier. That string included the two worst defeats the Musketeers have ever suffered to UC, 89-53 and 102-72.
The Final Word
Everything is going Xavier’s way in this series now, but the Musketeers had a lot of catching up to do. Successful though they’ve been at upending top-ranked Cincinnati teams, they’ve never ascended to the same heights themselves, having topped out at No. 7 in AP polls.
Given that Cincy (with its two national titles) also leads the overall series by a solid 17-game margin, the Bearcats are still on top in this shootout.