Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ranking the Villains in the Xavier-Cincy Fight

If you haven't heard, the Crosstown Shootout -- the rivalry game between Xavier and Cincinnati that is annually one of the most intense basketball games of the season -- ended 9.4 seconds early. That's how much time was left when the officials called the game due to a fight that broke out between several players from both schools.

I generally can't help but roll my eyes at all the hand-wringing that follows the rare fights that do occur in college basketball, the same way I tend to roll my eyes at hand-wringing in general. This wasn't a black eye on the game of college basketball: It was a bunch of people, some of them kids, making a bunch of poor decisions in an emotionally charged environment. We're all prone to these types of errors in judgment.

With that said, a lot of dumb people did some dumb stuff, and it's going to cost them and their teams. Here's the order in which I blame the major players, ranked from most culpable to least:

1. Yancy Gates
As far as I can tell, the Cincinnati senior was the first one to throw a punch, bloodying Kenny Frease and landing at least one other glancing blow to a Xavier bench player. The right-hand to the side of Frease's face was a cheap shot, as Frease was tied up with another player at the time. Gates didn't instigate the fight, but he escalated it, and I expect that he'll receive a pretty lengthy suspension.

2. Dezmine Wells
In these situations, I'm usually hard on the third man in. Indeed, this thing might not have blown up the way it did had Wells, a Xavier freshman, not shoved Ge'Lawn Guyn as Guyn was going chest-to-chest with Tu Holloway. Wells also threw a punch at a Bearcat bench player who was going at it with Mark Lyons.

3. Tu Holloway
I don't know whether Holloway or Guyn made the first move, and I don't particularly care: Holloway is a potential All-American, Guyn a freshman role player. The Xavier senior has to be smarter than this.

4. Ge'Lawn Guyn
Scoreboard, young man. Scoreboard.

5. Chris Mack and Mick Cronin
A fight should never break out involving both teams' star players with less than ten seconds left in a 23-point game. The last dead ball before the fight came with 2:02 seconds remaining -- Xavier was up 19 at the time. Might have been a good time to get everyone out of the game. If not then, one of those "just to make substitutions" timeouts would have been appropriate. Both coaches lose points, too, for not clearing their teams off the court quickly after the officials called the game. It didn't lead to any additional problems, but in that atmosphere, it easily could have.

6. Mark Lyons
His performance at the post-game news conference certainly didn't help matters (and that's another thing: if the schools were interested in protecting their players from further suspension, they really shouldn't have made any of them available to the media), but I'm listing him here for his on-court actions. Specifically, I'm thinking of the end of the first half, when Xavier was holding the ball for the last shot. They ran an isolation for Holloway at the top of the key, and as Holloway milked the clock, Lyons stood in the left corner with his head turned towards the Bearcats bench, yapping with UC's deep reserve players. First of all, it's just stupid to take yourself completely out of the action when the ball is in play like that. And secondly, Cincy would gladly forfeit one of its scrubs if it meant Xavier would be without Lyons. For the purposes of the actual fight, not only did the above incident contribute to the game's contentious tone, Lyons also mixed it up with the same Cincinnati bench player during the melee.

7. Sean Kilpatrick
I don't know to what extent Kilpatrick was involved in the fisticuffs, but he threw kerosene and an already smoldering rivalry earlier in the week by publicly saying that Holloway wouldn't start for Cincinnati. It's a ridiculous statement that not only raised the intensity of the situation but may have made it harder on his own team. It's unlikely that Holloway needed any extra motivation after scoring just five points in last year's blowout loss to UC, but Kilpatrick psyched himself out: He pressed in the game's early moments, missing several difficult shots, and was pretty much a non-factor the rest of the way.

8. The officials
The refs had a chance to maybe prevent this from happening by hitting Lyons and whoever he was involved with in the halftime jawing session with technical fouls. The players' conduct almost certainly warranted such a penalty under normal circumstances; in a powderkeg like the Crosstown Shootout, the officials have a responsibility to defuse any intense situations that may arise.

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