Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It thinks classy Metallica is the best Metallica.
Xavier at No. 11 Cincinnati, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: It used to be called the Crosstown Shootout. Now it's called the Crosstown Classic. It used to be played at Cincinnati and Xavier's home courts. Now it will be played in downtown Cincy, at a neutral site, the U.S. Bank Arena. And absolutely no one is talking trash.
That is not surprising, of course. Last year's Crosstown brawl -- which sprung out of a Xavier blowout, was fanned by Musketeers guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, was ratcheted up by Yancy "Haymakers" Gates and was punctuated by Holloway's and Lyons' tough-guy nonsense in the postgame news conference -- painted a picture of both schools and the rivalry itself as less about the joys of healthy hate and more about who could be the loudest and swing the hardest.
Tonight's edition should carry none of that edge. Which is not to say it is gone forever. Just that when you're talking about ending a rivalry this good, there's nothing wrong with counting to 10 and taking things down a notch.
It helps that most of the key players involved last season are now gone. Holloway, Gates and Kenny Frease graduated; Lyons transferred to Arizona. And it probably helps that the dynamic of the game has changed. For years, as Mick Cronin has tried to rebuild Cincinnati, Xavier has been the marquee program in the area. Now Xavier is the one rebuilding with youth. The Musketeers have five new starters this season and have played some really good basketball and some really ugly stuff, which is what good teams do. Meanwhile, the Bearcats are one of the best teams in the country, undefeated and ranked sixth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Tonight, Cincinnati and Xavier will play a rivalry game, and fans will cheer and boo and probably say less-than-nice things to the opposition from time to time, and then everyone will go about the rest of their night without a fight breaking out. The rivalry has reset. But it is still a rivalry.
No. 23 North Carolina at Texas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Any other season, this is one of the better nonconference home-and-home series in the country. Typically, Roy Williams' teams are high-flying, pace-setting offensive squads (even if in the past few years his teams have been vastly underrated on the defensive end); Rick Barnes's Texas units are typically just as big and athletic and fast but specialize in stifling, physical, ball-hawking defense. It's an ideal matchup.
This season? It's a little like seeing that game, I guess, if it was a larva in a petri dish.
This spring, North Carolina lost four players to the NBA draft. The Tar Heels are still talented, but crazy young, still not used to playing with each other, still not polished or tough enough -- particularly on the offensive end -- to make the whole thing hum. As a point of reference, Williams' team is ranked No. 343 in the country in free throw rate. The Tar Heels almost never get to the line. Against bad teams, this has worked just fine. Against Butler and Indiana, the Tar Heels got rocked.
Texas, meanwhile, is still playing some pretty fantastic defense. In fact, it ranks No. 4 in the country in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency; but for the loss to Chaminade, Texas has held every opponent it has played to fewer than 65 points and .94 points per possession. That's really good!
The problem is that the Longhorns just … can't … score. A great deal of this has to do with the still-mystifying absence of Myck Kabongo, who remains in NCAA investigation purgatory. (Without its star point guard, Texas is turning the ball over on 25.5 percent of its possessions, one of the 25 worst rates in the country. The Longhorns also rank No. 341 in steal percentage. It's bad.) But they can't shoot the ball, either. Texas is shooting 44.2 percent from 2, 31.1 percent from 3 and 65.0 percent from the free throw line.
As such, it has been really easy -- and probably appropriate -- to make jokes about Texas so far this season. And I have. But the reason the Longhorns are perceived as so brutal to watch is not only because they're terrible offensively. It's because they're terrible offensively while making the other team look pretty pedestrian, too.
If they could ever get Kabongo back, and if they could ever make a few shots, Barnes' young team might really be worth watching. But right now? Avert your eyes.
Elsewhere: No. 5 Louisville will host Florida International tonight. Louisville is coached by Rick Pitino. FIU is coached by his son, Richard Pitino. Some trivia: The Pitinos are the sixth father-son duo to meet in college hoops history. Fathers are 14-2 against their sons. Fathers everywhere are nodding their heads. … and Northern Iowa travels to No. 20 UNLV, where the Panthers will have to find a way to contend with the Rebels' overwhelming frontcourt strength.