By STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Xavier coach Chris Mack jokes that LaRosa’s pizza, Skyline Chili and Graeter’s ice cream should add locations in Nashville this week for all the Cincinnati residents heading south.
Cincinnati and Xavier fans won’t find their favorite Cincinnati-based restaurant chains in Music City. But they will find that they weren’t able to get away from their crosstown rival.
The Bearcats and Musketeers are starting the NCAA Tournament in the same arena. Xavier is the No. 1 seed in the West Region and will face Texas Southern (16-19) on Friday, while Cincinnati (30-4) is the No. 2 seed in the South Region and takes on Georgia State (24-10).
But just because the NCAA found reasons to put the rivals at the same site doesn’t necessarily mean fans of one school will cheer for the other.
Xavier guard J.P. Macura believes Cincinnati fans will be pulling for Texas Southern while Xavier fans cheer for Georgia State.
“It’s a heated rivalry,” Macura said.
Cincinnati forward Gary Clark said fans of one Cincinnati team will also root for the other, even if reluctantly.
“I’ve talked to people who will come back to our game and then come back for the Xavier game,” Clark said. “They’ll all say they’re not rooting for each other, but you’ve got to sit there and watch. … (Xavier fans) won’t say it, but deep down in their hearts they’ll be pulling for the red and black.”
The schools got the benefit of opening NCAA Tournament play about a four-hour drive from their respective campuses by virtue of their strong seasons. Cincinnati is seeded second in the South Region. Xavier is the No. 1 seed in the West Region after a banner year that included an 89-76 victory over Cincinnati .
That game continued the history of contentious matchups between the two schools, which are separated by about 3 miles. Although they’re members of different conferences, they face each other every year.
Bearcats coach Mick Cronin drew a technical foul for yelling something at Macura, who apparently said something back. They exchanged words again during the postgame handshake line, and Cronin turned around and tried to go back toward Macura before Cincinnati assistant coaches and a referee guided him toward the locker room.
Xavier’s 76-63 home victory over Cincinnati in the 2011-12 season featured a brawl in the closing seconds that caused four players from each team to be suspended.
Considering that history, Cincinnati forward Kyle Washington isn’t surprised the two schools ended up getting sent to the same site, even though they aren’t facing each other this week.
“It was pretty predictable of the NCAA,” Washington said. “They love creating story lines, and I think that’s a pretty interesting story line. Xavier’s a storied program from Cincinnati. We’re a storied program from Cincinnati.”
Xavier is the No. 1 seed in the West Region and will face Texas Southern (16-19) on Friday. Cincinnati (30-4) is the No. 2 seed in the South Region and takes on Georgia State (24-10).
The two schools got the benefit of opening the tourney within driving distance by virtue of their strong seasons.
North Carolina and Duke occasionally have opened NCAA Tournament play in one site, with fans of one school cheering against the other. Cincinnati and Xavier don’t know whether to expect a similar situation this week.
“I don’t feel like there are going to be that many fans in the building because usually they’re expensive to get tickets and most fans, at least in my experience don’t go to both sessions,” Mack said. “I could be wrong. I really don’t care one way or another.
“The only thing I worry about is being able to guard (Texas Southern star) Demontrae Jefferson — not me because that would be a problem, but our team. We’re not really concerned too much about the environment.”
Actually, Nashville organizers said the majority of ticket buyers bought passes for the entire weekend, which will enable them to watch both Cincinnati and Xavier.
As Kate Lopez watched the Musketeers practice Thursday, the Xavier alum acknowledged she would also cheer for Cincinnati since they’re not playing each other.
“I root for the hometown teams, no matter what,” Lopez said.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin expects at least two more Xavier fans to be rooting for his team.
“A couple of guys that I owe favors to are big Xavier boosters but are friends of mine,” Cronin said. “So it’s going to end up costing me $400 or $400, them being in the same (arena) as us, having to buy extra tickets for them. But I will get it back this summer somehow.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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