Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Two of the top-scoring teams in the Atlantic 10 get together in Kingston on Thursday night, with #16 Xavier (13-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) taking on Rhode Island (11-5, 0-1). The Rams are coming off of a triple-overtime classic at St. Joseph’s on Saturday, but they probably won’t think about the game that way since they lost 92-86. Xavier, on the other hand, is once again at the top of the conference standings with wins over Saint Louis and Fordham. No disrespect to either the Billikens or the Rams from the Bronx but this is the first conference test for the Musketeers, who once again feature scoring balance. While only three players are averaging double figures in scoring (Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson), there’s a group of six players behind them averaging between five and seven points per game. Sean Miller’s team isn’t the offensive juggernaut that last season’s Elite 8 team was, but they’ve still got the ability to clamp down on the other end of the floor.
Xavier is third in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense (62.3 ppg allowed) and second in field goal percentage defense (36.7%), and even though Fordham isn’t a very good team Xavier gave a nice demonstration of what they’re capable of. After an 18-4 run saw the Rams close to within 49-48 with just over fifteen minutes left in the game, someone (most likely Coach Miller in the resulting timeout) flipped a switch. Final score: 86-60. That game also saw the Musketeers shoot 52.3% from the field, and their offensive system when executed properly results in easy shots for their best shooters. Derrick Brown (14.1 ppg) is still the high-flyer capable of showing up on “SportsCenter” any given night, but his offensive repertoire has expanded to include an outside shot (47.6% 3PT). The versatility of Brown and fellow upperclassmen Raymond (12.1 ppg) and Anderson (10.7 ppg) could give Jim Baron’s team some problems given their defensive prowess, or lack thereof.
The Rams are more than capable of putting some points on the board (conference-leading 81.9 ppg; 2nd in field goal percentage at 49.2%), but they’re also one of the worst defensive teams in the Atlantic 10. Rhody ranks thirteenth in both scoring defense (73.4 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (45.8%), but they are one of the better teams when it comes to defending the three-pointer (4th at 32.1%). But when you run up and down the floor like the “Runnin’ Rams” do, this is bound to happen sometimes. According to Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com), the Rams are third in the Atlantic 10 when it comes to tempo (Duquesne and St. Bonaventure are ahead of them in the adjusted ranking) and tops when it comes to offensive efficiency. Three players are averaging at least fourteen points per game for Coach Baron with his son Jimmy (17.3 ppg) leading the way. While Baron is the resident sharpshooter, Keith Cothran (14.6 ppg) is more of a slasher while Kaheim Seawright (14.3 ppg) is their primary inside scoring option.
The Musketeers need a win to stay even with Duquesne and St. Joseph’s atop the conference standings while the Rams really can’t afford to fall too far behind. Rhody has been competitive in their big games to date, but the problem is that they’ve lost them all. An at-large berth is a long shot, but defending their home floor and taking out the reigning champs would be the first step in changing that. The one aspect of this game that could shift things in favor of the Rams (due to their tempo) is turnovers. The loss of Drew Lavender has been quite apparent in this department, with the Musketeers ranking twelfth in turnover margin (-2.00) and thirteenth in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.85). The Rams lead the A-10 in assist-to-turnover margin at 1.19. If the Rams can force seventeen or more turnovers, they can win. If not, look for the Musketeers to take a close one.
Winner: Xavier Margin: 2-6 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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