I don't think Duquesne has it in them to challenge for the A-10 regular season title this year, despite their hot start. I only mention that because it casts in an even more important light Xavier's game against Richmond, over whom they currently hold a one-game lead in the conference standings. Richmond is 51st on ESPN's InsideRPI today, their 16-5 record offset to some extent by the 107th most difficult schedule in the nation. Xavier is all the way up to 25th, gaining momentum with conference wins along with the 25th toughest schedule to this point.
The first thing that jumps off the page about Richmond is that, as a team, they can flat out shoot the eyes out of the ball. Their effective FG% of .556 is 9th in the nation, their 2P% of .519 is 43rd, and their 3P% is a stunning .419, good for 3rd nationally. They have five players who have shot more than 25 threes and connected on at least 40% of them. Xavier, by contrast, has zero such players.
Richmond's offense does a good job of making possessions count. They are 18th best in the nation in avoiding turnovers and 5th best in avoiding blocked shots. Considering their prowess from the floor, the Spiders shoot a paradoxically poor .681 from the line. They're also an extremely poor offensive rebounding team, ranking 331st in the nation by grabbing a board on only a quarter of their misses. Combined with their trouble at the line and a team-wide inability to get to the line (they're 267th nationally in FTA per FGA), it's fair to say that Richmond's offensive strength lies almost solely in their not inconsiderable shooting ability.
Reigning A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson is having another good year, posting 17-3-3.5 on .461/.701/.448 shooting. His efforts have been overshadowed by those of 6' 10" senior Justin Harper. The forward is getting 18-7-1.2 on a mammoth .562/.787/.495 shooting line. He's also throwing in a block per game on the defensive end just to show that he can. Obviously, a player with that combination of height and range presents a formidable matchup problem for the Muskies.
Richmond's defensive numbers are almost as impressive as their offensive ones. Using a switching man-to-man defense, they hold opponents to .431 shooting inside the arc and .312 shooting outside of it. These marks are good for 27th and 53rd in the nation, respectively. Richmond also leads the A-10 two-point, three-point, and overall field goal percentage defense and is second in the conference in scoring defense. They force turnovers and deny offensive rebounds at right about the national rate, but are above average in blocking shots (98th) and keeping opponents off the line (64th). In addition to Harper's defensive prowess, 6' 9" Darrius Garrett is averaging 1.7 BPG in only 13.3 minutes.
This is Xavier's biggest conference game until the matchup with Duquesne. If X can knock off Richmond, they have a good chance of cruising into that game with a 9-0 conference record and wins in hand against Richmond, Temple, and UD. In other words, Xavier has a real chance to put themselves in the conference driver's seat if they can put together a better performance Saturday than they did mid-week.
Keys to the game:
-Work the post: Kenny didn't get the ball enough Wednesday and McLean was largely ineffective, which made that game a lot closer than it needed to be. Against a man team, the Muskies should have plenty of opportunities to let their big men assert an influence on the game.
-Extend the defense: I'm a huge fan of Xavier's pack line philosophy, but Thomas Carlyle said it best when he said, "Custom doth make dotards of us all." XU needs to find enough defensively flexibility to put hands in the faces of Richmond's shooters.
-Come out ready: Xavier has been playing poorly in first halves for most of the season. You can get away with that against St. Bonnie or GW, but Richmond has the potential to bury a team that comes out flat. The intensity and effort need to be there on both ends of the floor from the word "go" for Coach Mack's squad.
-On the road, in the conference, against a great shooting team with better than adequate defensive numbers. Xavier is going to need to clean up the mistakes that have led to their spotty form in conference and hope Richmond has another off shooting day like they did in their conference loss to URI. This one is a 3.5.