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5 things to watch, note and consider in Crosstown Shootout and a prediction

Local12.com Digitial Sports Columnist/Editor Richard Skinner previews the Crosstown Shootout and provides a prediction (WKRC).

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Here are five things to watch, note and consider in Saturday's Cincinnati-Xavier Crosstown Shootout basketball game, which will tip at noon in Cintas Center on Xavier's campus and can be seen on FS1:

5. How will the newcomers handle the environment and intensity?

The Skinny: While both teams have plenty of veterans who have been through multiple games in this series, each team has a handful of key newcomers who haven't been a part of anything like the intensity of this.

Xavier gets 34.9 minutes and 13.5 points per game from freshman forward Naji Marshall and freshman guard Paul Scruggs, while fifth-year senior transfer Karem Kanter has played well of late and is averaging 6.0 points in 11.9 minutes per game. If sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin gets in foul trouble it will be up Scruggs to run the show, too.

This will be the first game in the series for UC junior point guard Cane Broome, who is averaging 9.0 points and 2.7 assists per game in 18.1 minutes per game, and also for freshman guards Trevor Moore (6.3 points in 14.1 minutes per game) and Keith Williams (5.9 points in 15.9 minutes per game). It will be also be the first game in the Cintas Center for sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland (11.0 points in 24.4 minutes per game) and senior forward Kyle Washington (10.4 points in 19.7 minutes per game). That's a combined 42.6 points and 88.2 minutes per game for guys who either not play a game in the series or not played a game in the series in Cintas Center.

4. Will a tougher schedule to date benefit Xavier?

The Skinny: According to RealTimeRPI.com, as of Friday Xavier's strength of schedule is 39th in the nation, while UC's is 321st.

The Musketeers' best wins are over Baylor (ranked 59th in the RPI, but that will likely improve significantly) and at Wisconsin (ranked 90th in the RPI, but that, too, will likely improve), and its lone loss was on a neutral court to undefeated Arizona State (ranked 25th in the RPI).

UC's best wins are on a neutral floor against Buffalo (ranked 51st in the RPI, but that will decrease significantly) and on a neutral floor against Wyoming (ranked 87th in the RPI, and that too should decrease).

It should be noted that UC dominated six of its first seven opponents, winning by an average 30.6 points per game. although the Bearcats only beat Buffalo, 73-67.

The bottom line is both teams face quality opponents every day in practice due to the depth both have.

3. Better be balanced

The Skinny: UC had five players score in double figures last season to offset a brilliant 40-point performance by Trevon Bluiett, who was one of only two Xavier players to score in double figures, as the Bearcats prevailed 86-78.

It will be hard for any one or two players to have big enough games if the other team gets balanced scoring, which both are capable of having.

UC has four players averaging in double figures and four more averaging between 5.9 and 9.0 points per game.

Xavier has three players averaging in double figures and six more averaging between 5.4 and 9.6 points per game.

Suffice it to say, there is plenty of scoring punch on both teams.

2. Who will be the wild card player for each team?

The Skinny: There seems to be a player (or two) or who have unexpected big games in this series to help lead their team to victory:

  • Cumberland had a breakout game last season when he tallied 15 points in 21 minutes.
  • The season before senior guard Remy Abell made 3 of 5 three-point attempts after going 1 of 10 from three in the previous six games combined to help Xavier to a 65-55 victory.
  • Two seasons ago senior guard Dee Davis made all five of his three-point attempts after going 2 of 15 from three in his previous eight games combined and 6 of 38 from three in his previous 13 games, and added eight assists to lead the Musketeers to a 59-57 win.

It's hard to guess who it might be who has that unexpected big game this time, but rest assured it will likely be someone neither team could see coming.

1. Hard to believe Xavier will get "punked" on the glass again, but the Bearcats are a rebounding machine

The Skinny: In UC's win last season it snagged 19 offensive rebounds and outscored the Musketeers on second chance points, 30-4, leading Xavier coach Chris Mack to say after the game: "I’m going to be really honest, there is only one thing you can talk about: we got our ASS KICKED on the glass. We played well enough to win. If you can’t keep Cincinnati off the glass - which is easier said than done - you are not winning. We couldn’t. We didn’t. You’re either going to get punked or you’re not, and we got punked."

Xavier has traditionally been a very good rebounding team, and is outrebounding opponents by an average 7.7 per game this season, but has given up 10.6 offensive rebounds per game by opponents.

Keep in mind that the Musketeers entered last year's game ranked 15th nationally in rebounding margin (plus 7.6 per game) and had allowed just 7.7 offensive rebounds per game at that point, and that UC ranks second nationally in rebounding margin this season (plus 15.4 per game) and is grabbing an average 14.1 offensive rebounds per game.

It should lead to a contentious battle on the boards.

PREDICTION: Xavier 72, Cincinnati 69

The Skinny: This is the last go-round in this series for Bluiett and J.P. Macura, and much like last season when UC senior guard Troy Caupain played a key role in willing the Bearcats to the win in his final game in the series (and hitting a huge three-pointer with 59 seconds left that was the dagger) I think those two will find a way to will the Musketeers to a victory on their home floor.

Xavier is 6-1 against UC in games played in Cintas Center, including the last six in a row in games played there in the series, and the Musketeers have won 34 straight non-conference games at home.

Both teams have the prospect for special seasons ahead of them no matter the outcome, and the teams would probably split a 10-game series on a neutral floor, so the Musketeers get the slight nod at home.

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