For nearly as long as it has existed, college basketball has flourished in Cincinnati. While many blame this on the city’s lack of an NBA team, even before the Royals left Cincinnati for good in 1972, greats such as Oscar Robertson and Jack Twyman had already made their mark on the hardwood.
Cincinnati’s love for college basketball more or less revolves around one game: Cincinnati vs. Xavier. The rivalry, known by many as the “Crosstown Shootout”, is one of the oldest in college basketball with 85 total meetings thus far, the first of which coming in 1928 where Xavier defeated Cincinnati 28-25. After that however, the two schools didn’t meet until 1943, where Xavier won again, this time 51-37. Three years later, the two schools began a tradition of playing each other yearly, something that has stayed true to this very day.
Although to many this may just seem like another regional rivalry, just like North Carolina vs. Duke, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Indiana vs. Purdue, etc. Having experienced this event myself year after year, I can say with 100% certainty, the Crosstown Shootout is the greatest rivalry in college basketball.
While Cincinnati vs. Xavier may not have the national stage or appeal to most as North Carolina vs. Duke or Syracuse vs. Georgetown, what sets this game apart is the history and passion between the two teams and fan bases alike.
Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the Cincinnati not only dominated Xavier, but college basketball as a whole. The Bearcats made Final Four appearances in five straight seasons from 1959 to 1963, won back-to-back national championships in 1961 and 1962, and were led by one of college basketball’s all-time greats in Oscar Robertson. They also went on a 12-game winning streak against the Musketeers from 1957 to 1967, the longest of either team in the rivalry’s history.
On the other hand, Xavier’s basketball program began to pick up steam much later. After an 8-game Cincinnati winning streak, the Musketeers finally toppled the Bearcats during the 1979-80 season, a season which began a turning point in the Crosstown Shootout’s history. Xavier then went on to win 6 of their next 10 against Cincinnati. During that span of time, Xavier began to rise to the national stage, with the Musketeers’ first tournament win coming in 1987, and their first Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1990, both under head coach Pete Gillen.
Right around the Bearcats’ return to college basketball supremacy in the 1990’s, the Crosstown Shootout began to come across some of the greatest and most memorable games the city of Cincinnati has ever seen. In 1994, after a 82-76 overtime win for Xavier, Cincinnati head coach Bog Huggins refused to shake Xavier’s Pete Gillen’s hand, resulting in verbal confrontation between the two. That also happened to be Gillen’s final Crosstown Shootout. In both the 1996-97 and 1999-2000 seasons, Cincinnati was widely regarded as the #1 team in college basketball coming into matchups against Xavier. Both games were won by Xavier off of last-second shots.
While the Crosstown Shootout may have gone dormant outside of Cincinnati for most of the 2000’s, the rivalry saw a resurgence in 2009, when Xavier knocked off a #19th ranked Cincinnati team in a double-overtime classic 83-79, a game which featured two future NBA players in Cincinnati’s Lance Stephenson and Xavier’s Jordan Crawford.
Two seasons later, perhaps the most well-known game of the series occurred. In the final seconds of a blowout 76-53 Xavier win, a bench-clearing brawl broke out between the two teams. After a missed shot from Cincinnati’s Dion Dixon, with around 10 seconds left in the game, a massive fight began to break out between the two teams, resulting in Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates notably throwing a punch that gave Xavier’s Kenny Frease a bloody eye. The fight also resulted in the suspension of eight total players between the two teams.
The two following seasons, the game was played at US Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati before its eventual return to a home-and-home series. Since then, Cincinnati and Xavier both seen immense national exposure, with Xavier being ranked 3rd and Cincinnati 5th at one point last season.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas said it best, “Cincinnati and Xavier have created a rivalry that is unparalleled when it comes to outright passion and civic division.” While the Crosstown Shootout may not see the national exposure as some of the other regional rivalries throughout the country, as seen in the hatred and passion between these two programs, Cincinnati vs. Xavier is easily one of, if not the top rivalry in college basketball.