Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Xavier Musketeers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Cincinnati Bearcats (6-1 SU, 3-2 ATS) vs. Xavier Musketeers (5-3 SU, 4-3 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Sunday, December 13, 2009, Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio. TV: CBS
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Cincinnati +3.5/Xavier -3.5
Over/Under: 136

The Bengals are having a terrific season and the attention in Cincinnati will be on them in the early afternoon, but when the clock strikes 7:00 p.m. on Sunday night all eyes in Cincinnati will be on the matchup at the Cintas Center. The Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers will meet for the 77th time in an inner-city rivalry with bragging rights and large non-conference implications on the line.

Last season, Xavier took this game, 76-66. But this year’s teams are very different than they were last year. Xavier lost its head coach, Sean Miller, and key players B.J. Raymond, Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson. Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford has come in as the leading scorer and go-to guy for the Musketeers. Cincinnati brought back almost its entire team and added heralded freshman Lance Stephenson and redshirt freshman Cashmere Wright. Stephenson has emerged as one of the team’s best players, leading the team in scoring with 11.6 points per game.

Deonta Vaughn has been of the most underrated players in college basketball over the past few years. He scored 15.2 points per game and averaged over four assists per game. He is again dishing out more than four assists per game, but he is only scoring 10.3 points per game this season. Part of that is because he doesn’t need to score as much this season and is able to focus more on distributing the ball (his turnovers are down from 3.3 per game to 1.7) but he is only shooting 38.6 percent from the field. Vaughn has to step up a little more for the Bearcats to reach their full potential.

The two biggest reasons why Cincy has been playing so well are Stephenson and Yancy Gates. Stephenson’s size makes it tough for opposing guards and wings to defend him. He is able to break down players on the perimeter and drive to the basket at will, and he can finish strong. He is only shooting 15 percent from 3-point range, but when he gets in the lane he is tough to stop. Gates has been a beast down low. The powerful big man is averaging 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds and is tough for anyone to stop around the basket.

Xavier has been carried thus far by Crawford and Jason Love. Crawford is scoring 18.5 points per game and shooting 48.7 percent from beyond the arc. He is shooting 14.8 shot attempts per game, more than double any other player on the team. Love is a big man similar in size to Gates. He is averaging 10.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. If Stephenson, Vaughn and Wright can lock Crawford down and Gates can stay out of foul trouble and contain Love around the basket, Cincy will be in good shape. The Bearcats also have to watch out for Terrell Holloway and Brad Redford. Holloway is a quick guard who can penetrate the defense and get to the basket and he is also shooting over 44 percent from beyond the arc. Redford is one of the best pure shooters in the country, shooting 52.8 percent from beyond the arc. More than 90 percent of his made field goals this season are 3-pointers.

Over the past few years, Xavier has had an advantage in that the Musketeers usually had the better talent on their roster and they certainly had the better coach in Miller. That’s not saying Mick Cronin isn’t a quality coach, but Miller is one of the best in college basketball. With first-year head coach Chris Mack now calling the shots, this game becomes more about the talent. Cincinnati, for the first time in a few years, has the better team easily. The Bearcats have already defeated Vanderbilt, Maryland Miami of Ohio this season. Their only loss was an overtime loss to Gonzaga in which they were tired from playing in their third game in three days. After blowing a big lead down the stretch, they missed a bunch of free throws in overtime and allowed Gonzaga to steal a win. Xavier’s best wins thus far have come against Creighton and Kent State.

Ryno’s Pick: The only way Xavier should be able to win this game is by totally outworking the Bearcats, grabbing all the loose balls and rebounds, and dominating the turnover battle. The Musketeers do have the better outside shooters with Redford, Crawford and Holloway, so that’s another way they could break the game open. But if both teams play close to the way they’ve been playing so far this season, Cincinnati should win this game by double digits. This rivalry is a big deal, so expect both teams to work hard and fight the whole way through. In the end, Gates, Stephenson, Wright and Vaughn give the Bearcats too many options for Xavier to stop. Take Cincinnati +3.5.