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Cincinnati is Number One

December 14, 2004 Columns No Comments

Cincinnati can’t displace Tobacco Road

by Zach Van Hart

Recently, The Sporting News announced their annual ranking of the best college basketball cities in the nation, and, in their infinite wisdom, the brain trust at TSN proclaimed Cincinnati the “Best of College Basketball” for 2004.

With the University of Cincinnati and Xavier right downtown, and six of the nation’s top 25 teams in attendance within 150 miles (UC, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio State, Dayton, and Louisville – Xavier didn’t make that cut), college hoops fans in Cincinnati are living high off the Bearcat. But is my fair city really number one?

First, let it be known I’ve spent all 23 years of my life as a Cincinnati resident. I’ve been a diehard Bearcats fan for twelve years, and during basketball season, not much brings me more pleasure than watching UC beat Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout.

But there’s no chance in hell Cincinnati tops the Raleigh-Durham area for college hoops.

Let’s start from the top and investigate each town’s two top teams – Cincinnati and Xavier, and North Carolina and Duke. Above, we see that Xavier advanced to the Elite Eight and Cincinnati won the Conference USA regular season and conference title during the 2003-04 campaign.

And who beat the Musketeers in that Elite Eight game? If you’re taking a Scantron test, color in D – for Duke.

So Cincinnati won the Conference USA regular season crown (along with four other universities) and the tournament title (in its home town). Does this mean because North Carolina accomplished neither in the ACC, that the Bearcats had a better season? Do we really believe either Duke or North Carolina wouldn’t run amuck in C-USA? Or the Atlantic 10 for that matter?

Maybe we should crunch some numbers between the cities’ top two teams. Cincinnati and Xavier: two national championships and six Final Fours. Duke and North Carolina: five national championships and a ridiculous 29 Final Fours. During the past ten seasons, Cincinnati and Xavier each have one Elite Eight appearance; Duke and North Carolina each advanced to four Final Fours.

As for the fans, there’s no contest. Walk into a Cincinnati or Xavier bookstore and right there hanging on the racks are Duke and North Carolina shirts. Walk on either campus and you’ll see Duke T-shirts and UNC hats. If a Xavier sweatshirt appeared on a scavenger hunt list at Chapel Hill, the easiest way to win would be simply – drive north to Cincinnati, find a sweatshirt, and drive back.

The Bearcats and Musketeers always play to full capacity against each other… well of course they do. In a city filled with more than one million people, how hard is it to fill arenas with ten and thirteen thousand capacity? If they didn’t sell out, that would be news. Yet, neither team sells out all of its home games. Duke, however, has been selling out since the Stone Age, while North Carolina not only sells out it’s 21,750-seat Dean Dome, they regularly fill every single seat. We’re talking no seat empty out of nearly 22 thousand. That wouldn’t happen in Cincinnati if the Pope came to town to pass out rosaries.

Students at Cincinnati camp out for one night – inside – to nab tickets to the Shootout. Duke students camp out for two months, outside, for tickets to the Tar Heel game. (No joke). Cincinnati and Xavier don’t like each other. North Carolina and Duke hate each other.

Apparently though, Cincinnati is the better region because Ohio State, Indiana, Kentucky, Dayton or Louisville are within 150 miles driving distance. Somehow, the article fails to mention the close proximity of North Carolina State, or that 75 miles west is Wake Forest.

Cincinnatians do not travel to watch any of the above teams except Kentucky, unless of course Xavier plays Dayton or Cincinnati plays Louisville. Ohio State only exists to Cincinnatians as a football team, while the only press the Hoosiers ever received here came when Indiana advanced to the 2002 national championship game.

As for Kentucky, that’s more proof that Cincinnati fans do not love their beloved Bearcats or Muskies like Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans love their respected teams. Kentucky is located 75 miles south of Cincinnati, yet is treated as if the university is nudged between Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium. There’s no logical reason for so many Wildcat fans to reside in Cincinnati, except they advance to Final Fours (not in the past six seasons however) while the two local universities do not.

It would be like a Wake Forest fan in Durham. That just doesn’t happen.

And yes, while those aforementioned schools in the not-so-nearby area of Cincinnati are solid programs, so are the other two in tobacco country. The Wolfpack owns two national championships (equal to Cincinnati’s total) and has regularly competed in the Big Dance during the past five seasons. Wake Forest is just peaking as a national powerhouse. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last season started this season ranked in the top five. The Deacons own a Final Four appearance (one more than Xavier) and captured the 2002-03 ACC regular season championship. And their current head coach, Skip Prosser, bolted which university to lead Wake? That would be Xavier.

Finally, of course during basketball season, college basketball is the top subject on AM radio in Cincinnati. The Bengals’ season is over by November anyway and there’s no NBA team here. What else should we talk about? Tom Sizemore’s performance in “Hustle?”

Cincinnati is a great place for college basketball. The teams perform well, hosts of fans usually pack the arenas and come March, Cincinnati and Xavier always advance to the NCAA Tournament. But when it comes to No. 1, there’s no question. The victory cigar is awarded to a little place called Tobacco Road.


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