By Paul Gotham
Setting: Atlantic 10 contenders crash at the Cintas Center when Jim Baron’s Rhode Island Rams (15-2/3-1) tangle with Chris Mack’s Xavier Musketeers (12-6/ 4-1).
Plot: Both schools trail Temple (4-0) for the conference lead. Saturday evening’s game is the only regular season meeting between the rivals.
Sub-plot: Rhode Island and Xavier rank 15th and 16th in the CBS RPI poll. Rhode Island’s strength of schedule is rated 51st in the country. Xavier’s slate is ranked third.
The game is the first of three at home for the Musketeers. Xavier touts a 26-game home winning streak in Atlantic 10 play. Temple holds the conference record of 34 wins between 1987-91.
Rhode Island plays at Dayton, Tuesday night.
Xavier lost their previous outing to Temple, 77-72. Rhode Island downed Duquesne, 75-67.
Flashback: Derrick Brown led four Muskies in double figures as Xavier overcame 22 turnovers to win at the Ryan Center, 67-65 a year ago. Xavier out-rebounded Rhode Island 42-34.
Xavier has made 20 appearances in the NCAA Tournament including two Elite Eights (’04 and ’08) and a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season. Rhode Island has earned eight berths in the Dance. The Rams advanced to the Elite Eight in 1998.
Foreshadowing: Sixteen Musketeers have played in the NBA including current stars Derrick Brown, James Posey , and David West. Fourteen Rams have laced them up in the Association. Lamar Odom and Cuttino Mobley honed their skills in Kingston.
Conflict: Xavier is 11-2 when scoring 70 or more points. Rhode Island limits opponents to 70.5. The Rams will need to play the Muskies tight. Xavier hits 40.5 percent from behind the three-point arc. Rhode Island limits its opponents to 34.4 behind the line.
Xavier can score in bunches. In less than four minutes against Dayton the Musketeers hit three 3s to turn a four point deficit into a two-point lead. Rhode Island will need to avoid such a fate.
Nine Rams play 11 minutes or more per contest. Keith Cothran leads three in double figures with 16.6 points. The 6’4″ guard hits 34.4 percent from long range.
Lamonte Ulmer grabs just under eight rebounds per game. The 6’6″ senior grabbed 13 boards versus Duqesne and 14 against Fordham. Ulmer leads the Rams with a field goal percentage of 53.8.
Delroy James chips in 14 points and 5.6 rebounds. Akeem Richmond leads the way with 34 trifectas. The freshman leads the Rams with a 38.6 shooting percentage from behind the line.
If Rhode Island is to win this game, they will need to slow down the Musketeer attack.
Everything begins with Terrell Holloway. The sophomore point guard leads the A-10 in assist to turnover ratio at 2.4:1. In a win over Dayton, Holloway had two assist and zero turnovers. In a loss to Temple, the sophomore had four assists and two turnovers. Holloway averages 11 points per game.
Xavier’s transmission is shooting guard, Jordan Crawford. The sophomore transfer averages 19 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Crawford’s biggest challenge is containing himself. While he has a low number of turnovers (39) in comparison to his number of touches, Crawford tends to force some shots. These can count as turnovers just as well.
Jason Love adds 10.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. He is joined in the front-court by Kenny Frease. The 7’0″ Frease adds 5.6 points and 4.9 boards.
Dante Jackson rounds out the starting five. Jackson is coming off a 19-point performance against Dayton where he hit five threes.
Resolution: Rhode Island can score with Xavier, but the Musketeer bench will wear down the Rams. Mark Lyons, Brad Redford and Jamel McLean all provide valuable minutes off the bench. Redford leads the A-10 in 3pt. percentage at 47.5. The sophomore is deadly in transition. McLean had double-double performances against Wake Forest and LSU. Lyons is a defensive stopper on the perimeter, but the guard has also seven double-digit scoring games.
The big difference might come at the line. Rhode Island opponents have had 64.7 success rate from the line. Xavier hits 71.9 from the stripe. Holloway is 90 percent from the line. A late lead Xavier lead is difficult to erase when Holloway is on the floor.
Rhode Island will stay close, but Xavier’s experience and depth will prove to be the difference in a game decided by single digits.
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