Courtesy of sportsblog.com/tedtalksports, written March 26, 2017
I have always had this long standing assumption that the Cincinnati Bearcats are the top dog when it comes to Cincinnati college basketball, with the Xavier Musketeers playing the role of the scrappy little brother. This does make sense if you think about it. UC has 2 National Championships, 6 Final Four appearances, is one of the 20 most successful college basketball programs ever, and has historically dominated the annual Crosstown Shootout with Xavier.
Over the last several years, I have started to question this assumption.
Fun Fact: Xavier has been quietly supplanting Cincinnati as the King of the Queen City for 21 years.
I am now here to prove it.
Skip Prosser, God rest his soul, was at the helm of Xavier for the Crosstown Shootout in 1996-97. The Musketeers were making the three mile trip from Xavier to Fifth Third Arena at UC to take on the #1 nationally ranked Bearcats. What transpired in the final few seconds of that game can best be explained by former Xavier Radio Play-by-Play Announcer Andy MacWilliams:
“He pops up, he shoots…SCORES! LENNY BROWN! XAVIER WINS IT! The Muskies win it! 71-69! The UC Bearcats are Number 1 in the country, Number 2 IN THEIR OWN CITY!” (Andy MacWilliams, Xavier Basketball Radio Network)
That wouldn’t be the only time that Skip would take down a top ranked Bearcats team.
Just 3 years later, this time on Xavier’s home court at the historic Cincinnati Gardens, the Musketeers once again took down a #1 nationally ranked Bearcats team, led by Kenyon Martin. Dick Vitale was on hand for this one, along with Dave Sims, and both were pleasantly surprised at how passionate the fans were, especially as the fans stormed the court following the final horn blowing in Xavier’s favor. That game was the first Crosstown Shootout I saw as a child, and that memory of Xavier students storming the court is still etched in my brain.
That was just the groundwork for what has become the begrudging passing of the torch in this city. Since 2000, Xavier has seen 4 head coaches (Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller, and Chris Mack). All 4 have seen success against Cincinnati (Xavier is 11-6 in the Crosstown Shootout since 2000-01). During this time, Xavier has made 15 trips to the NCAA Tournament, accumulating 21 victories. All 4 coaches led the Muskies appearances in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The last 3 coaches even made runs to the Elite 8 of the Tournament. Xavier has averaged nearly 23 wins a season to just 9 losses over this time frame.
Now comes the hard truth about the UC Bearcats. I’m going to be honest, it isn’t all bad. Bob Huggins was still around during the first few years of this time frame, and this was still a time of relative success for Cincinnati. UC saw a #1 seed in 2001-02, averaged 24.6 wins per season, and made a Sweet 16 run once during this 5 year stretch with Huggins at the helm. Good things must always come to an end, however, as 2005 saw the ousting of Bob Huggins from the head coaching role at UC, a highly unpopular move from the point of view of the fans, including me.
Since Huggins was removed from the bench, UC has seen a much more reduced rate of success. The Bearcats missed every NCAA Tournament from 2006-2010, averaged 21.5 wins to 13 losses, and has made just one additional trip to the Sweet 16. While Mick Cronin has UC in a much better place than the program was when he took over in 2006, he has yet to find consistency with his teams, which are often mired in offensive slumps.
All of these numbers are fine and dandy, but what do they all mean?? I mean, when it comes down to it, having Bill Murray in the stands doesn’t exactly equate to on court success.
I recently took a quick, highly unscientific poll on social media, and asked a very simple question: Who is the top dog in Cincinnati college basketball? Xavier Musketeers or Cincinnati Bearcats? I was expecting the perception to still be intact that UC was seen as the superior program by the majority of those who responded.
The response I received was slightly surprising. In total, only 33 percent said that UC was the top dog when it comes to Cincinnati college basketball. Some of those who were part of the 67 percent who said Xavier was the top dog explained that it is a recent change, and one response included the note that Bob Huggins being removed had a large impact.
Listen, I know that the UC Bearcats have the long and storied history of success, going back to Coach Ed Jucker and Oscar Robertson in the early 1960’s. Cincinnati has a tradition of success that goes back much longer than the recent run of winning that Xavier has seen, and Xavier may never be able to match some of the runs of brilliance that the Bearcats have seen.
All of that being said, the UC Bearcats have not seen the success that the Xavier Musketeers have seen recently. Recently doesn’t mean 5 years in this case, but rather closer to 20 years. Despite all of the regular season success that Bob Huggins coached Bearcat squads saw in the early 2000’s, they only made it past the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament once, and have only done so once more under Mick Cronin. Xavier, in that same time frame, during the NCAA Tournament, has made 7 trips to the Sweet 16, and 3 trips to the Elite 8.
If we are judging the success and failures of programs by what they do in March, which is typically the method for judging coaches and teams, then clearly, Xavier has been the more successful men’s basketball program in the city of Cincinnati. Overall, the UC Bearcats still have the Final Four’s, the National Championships, and the longer legacy. However, determining who is on top right now doesn’t factor in how successful a team was more than 50 years ago. It is a “what have you don’t for me lately” judgement, and there is a clear cut winner in this.
That would be the Xavier Musketeers.