On a night The Crosstown moved from an ugly chapter with a 60-45 Bearcats win, Mick Cronin believes it opened an exciting new chapter representative of the level Xavier and UC ascended their programs.
CINCINNATI -- As the UC men's basketball team jogged out of the locker room for the first time Wednesday night, the boos instantly cascaded from one end of US Bank Arena. No sooner did they reach the ears of Cashmere Wright leading the way, until cheers erupted from the opposing end.
The individual pregame introductions sent both fan bases comprising 14,568 strong into an electric uproar. Vocal intensity swung from one side of the building to the next. Organized chaos.
Standing in the middle next to the Crosstown Classic logo, Mick Cronin couldn't help but feel like he'd seen this before despite this being the first Xavier-UC game at US Bank since 1987.
"It reminded me of the Final 4 for people that were there," Cronin said. "When Louisville played Kentucky in the Final 4 when both teams came out, it was the way it should be."
A unique ebb and flow evolves when both fan bases are represented inside the same arena. With red split down the middle against blue, no lulls exist. A Xavier run brought energy from the South, a UC run elicited energy from the North. No moments of calm quash chaos. Not in this atmosphere. Momentum lived in every second and could be monitored by decibel levels.
"I loved it, personally," said Wright, who felt the love burying a deep exclamation-point 3 in the final minute to finish with 15 points. "You get two sides so when they scored their crowd went crazy. When we scored our crowd went crazy. We kept going back and forth it was like for the first time this happened it was a great experience for me."
If last year brought the worst out of these teams, moving into the same building brought the best of our their fan bases.
"I thought it was off the charts," Cronin said.
Sure, that premise might hold more water inside Cronin's locker room following the 60-45 UC win since momentum suffocated the Musketeers with every turnover in the decisive opening 10 minutes of the second half. An unrelenting intensity from the Bearcats defense that would put Tony Horton's Insanity Workout to shame fueled the 17-4 run out of halftime.
By the time Xavier staggered off the mat to regain composure, Dee Davis and Semaj Christon were buried on the bench with cramps and the UC segment of US Bank took over.
"The atmosphere, it was great, seemed to me both teams very well represented," Mack said. "But down the stretch I felt like I was playing an away game."
Such can be the case in these types of environments reminiscent of Final 4 games. And Cronin didn't embellish on his analogy. Perhaps the importance of such a comparison can be lost in a discussion too often spent arguing about the game's name.
These two programs that share a city also share the upper echelon of all college basketball. They've become regulars in the winner's postgame interview of the NCAA tournament. Xavier advanced to the Sweet 16 four of the last five years. UC won three tournament games in the last two years and this undefeated team ranks No. 11 in the country.
This atmosphere does more than bring two fan bases together, it emulates NCAA tournament intensity. It prepares these two programs with plans of deep runs in March for what those games will feel like.
You don't think Mack will point to Wednesday's game when teaching about handling trending momentum on a neutral floor? Wright talked about first-half jitters arising as missed shots set off Xavier's crowd. The swings are felt inside these 20-somethings. In March, this experience can only help relax them.
For two national programs, they deserve a national atmosphere.
US Bank, of course, offers a fair share of problems. The building itself makes Stonehenge look state of the art, too many media need pack mules to reach the auxiliary press tables, 1996 offered more reliable Internet and pricing gouged a number of fans in corners of the upper deck.
These issues can be addressed, however, some may always be a part of the "experience" of the old Riverfront Coliseum. Sure, a better facility would be ideal, but what evolved out of the celebration of elite basketball in the city should outweigh any frustrations with an aging facility.
No vitriol gathered steam against a collection of college kids. No home crowds turned with ugly fits of verbal abuse -- at least, to lesser degrees than what occurs when the power in numbers overwhelms a home building.
Instead, Wednesday was about basketball and both schools representing themselves against each other, on and off the court. For Cronin, it opened his eyes even further to what he believes this game should be about and why he pushed unabashedly for it to stay downtown.
"It eliminates the hatred that gets spewed in the on-campus environment and it keeps it positive for everybody," Cronin said. "Couldn't have been any better for the first time, I think it will only be better if we commit to playing it this way. I have strong feelings about that."
Nobody could be confused about his thoughts after 11 minutes at the podium Wednesday. A podium he hopes he'll be returning to for many years to come, win or lose.
"This was all positive and it's only going to get better," Cronin said. "The people that are responsible for it should see the big picture. It's about our universities, celebrating our universities and our city, so let's do it."
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or thoughts on if The Crosstown should be played at US Bank or on campus. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.