Sport could use more ri­val­ries like Cincin­nati-Xavier

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By JOHN FE­IN­STEIN

The best ri­val­ries in col­lege bas­ket­ball are lo­cal ri­val­ries: Philadel­phia's Big Five; Duke-North Carolina; Ken­tucky-Louisville all be­ing ex­am­ples of that. There's also Cincin­nati-Xavier. The two schools are lo­cated three miles apart and play ev­ery De­cem­ber. Last Satur­day, with both teams na­tion­ally ranked go­ing into the game, the Mus­ke­teers beat the Bearcats, 89-76.

Dur­ing postgame hand­shakes, Cincin­nati Coach Mick Cronin had to be dragged away from Xavier se­nior J.P. Macura. Af­ter­ward, he said that Macura had called him “the fword” three times dur­ing and af­ter the game and added, “If he was play­ing for me, he wouldn't play.”

That was a clear shot at Xavier Coach Chris Mack, who was un­apolo­getic about Macura's be­hav­ior. He pointed out that Cincin­nati's Lance Stephen­son had di­rected the nword at him dur­ing the game eight years ago and he hadn't com­plained or done any­thing other than shake hands af­ter Xavier won that day. Mack also de­fended Macura and called him “a great kid.”

Let's be clear here: Mack, 47, and Cronin, 46, are two of the more ac­com­plished younger coaches in the coun­try. Mack has taken Xavier to at least the Sweet 16 in four of his eight sea­sons at his alma mater - in­clud­ing last year when the Mus­ke­teers, with­out in­jured point guard Edmund Sum­ner, beat sixth-seeded Mary­land, third-seeded Florida State and sec­ond-seeded Ari­zona to reach the Elite Eight in the West Re­gion.

Cronin has taken Cincin­nati to seven straight NCAA tour­na­ments, been to one Sweet 16 and was 30-5 last sea­son be­fore los­ing in the sec­ond round to third-seeded UCLA. Each school has lofty hopes for this win­ter.

That's all good. These are two good guys who can re­ally coach. But although anger in this ri­valry is noth­ing new, both need to be given a good talk­ing-to right about now.

Seven years ago, the hos­til­ity got com­pletely out of hand when a brawl broke out with nine sec­onds left in an easy Xavier vic­tory. When all was said and done, four players from each school had been sus­pended and the pres­i­dents had to in­ter­vene to help calm things down.

No doubt tem­pers will cool in the com­ing days as well and both coaches will kiss and make up. Both, how­ever, need to do bet­ter in the fu­ture when the teams play. If Macura was di­rect­ing pro­fan­ity at Cronin, the Cincin­nati coach should have first made the of­fi­cials aware of it and, if that didn't stop it, he should have made Mack aware of it. Then it would be up to Mack to let his player know that was un­ac­cept­able.

Years ago, when North Carolina Coach Dean Smith thought a Clem­son's Iker Iturbe was try­ing to hurt one of his players in an ACC tour­na­ment game, he be­gan shout­ing and point­ing at Iturbe. See­ing and hear­ing Smith, Clem­son Coach Rick Barnes be­gan stalk­ing in the di­rec­tion of the North Carolina bench. Ref­eree Rick Hartzell in­ter­cepted him and asked him what he was do­ing.

“I'm go­ing to tell Dean if he has a prob­lem with one my players he needs to tell me and I'll take care of it,” Barnes said.

The of­fi­cials de­cided to bring the two coaches to­gether to sort the mat­ter out. “That was a mis­take,” said Frank Scagliotta, one of the other of­fi­cials. “We should have got­ten them as far apart as pos­si­ble and told them both to cool it.”

Smith and Barnes had to be held apart while Smith yelled at Barnes - 20-plus years his ju­nior - “Go ahead and hit me, Rick.”

It was ugly. But Barnes had done the right thing. If Iturbe was play­ing dirty, Smith should have told the of­fi­cials and Barnes. The same was true of Cronin on Satur­day. Hav­ing to be pulled away from a player is un­ac­cept­able. The coaches are sup­posed to be the grown-ups in all this.

Even though things got out of hand last week­end, Xavier-Cincin­nati re­mains a com­pelling ri­valry be­cause it means so much to ev­ery­one involved.

It is a perfect ex­am­ple of why lo­cal ri­val­ries are al­ways the best ri­val­ries. It is a re­minder to all of us who live here in Wash­ing­ton of how sad it is that the city's two power schools - each a past na­tional cham­pion - don't au­to­mat­i­cally play each other ev­ery sea­son.

Mary­land and Ge­orge­town played the last two sea­sons in the Gavitt Games, a pre­sea­son chal­lenge se­ries be­tween the Big Ten and the Big East. It was their first reg­u­larly sched­uled game since 1993. Each game was com­pelling. Mary­land won both, the first by ral­ly­ing late against an un­ranked Ge­orge­town team (Mary­land was ranked No. 3) in a game in which lit­tle-known Hoyas cen­ter Bradley Hayes out­played bal­ly­hooed Di­a­mond Stone. A year later, the Ter­rap­ins pulled out a wild game with a fu­ri­ous last-minute rally.

And that was that. Mary­land played But­ler in this sea­son's Gavitt Games and Ge­orge­town, play­ing al­most all of its pre-con­fer­ence games against cup­cakes - to put it mildly - didn't par­tic­i­pate.

Which is a shame, just as it is also a shame that Ge­orge­town has re­fused to play Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton since 1982. Mary­land and GW have played on oc­ca­sion in re­cent years, but only in the BB&T Clas­sic. It should be au­to­matic that the lo­cal schools play one an­other ev­ery sea­son, im­por­tant pre­con­fer­ence games that players and fans would all look for­ward to an­nu­ally.

In Philadel­phia, the Big Five schools play one an­other ev­ery year - each play­ing the other four - re­gard­less of con­fer­ence af­fil­i­a­tions. VCU and Old Do­min­ion are no longer con­fer­ence ri­vals but they still play each other ev­ery De­cem­ber. It took an or­der from the state leg­is­la­ture to get Ken­tucky to re­sume play­ing Louisville in 1983. They've played ev­ery year since in what is now one of the col­lege bas­ket­ball's most an­tic­i­pated games.

Maybe the D.C. Coun­cil should in­ter­vene in the Ge­orge­town-GW mess. Maybe Mary­land Gov­er­nor Larry Ho­gan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser should get to­gether on the Mary­land-Ge­orge­town is­sue.

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