Coming off a less than convincing victory at home against a Fordham squad that hasn't won a conference game in coming up on two years, I can't imagine that XU's last couple of practices were very enjoyable for the players. Xavier has fallen out of the top 20 in the RPI thanks to the SOS depletion of the A-10 schedule, but they still found a way to sneak in at #25 in the AP poll. They were second of the "others receiving votes" in the coaches' poll, which means no number by their name on ESPN. None of this really matters, but Joe Lunardi's bracket shows X as a six seed, which is nice.
More to the point, Xavier plays LaSalle at home tomorrow night. While not as bad as Fordham (at least on paper), LaSalle has gone out of its way to be a horrible defensive team. The Explorers are last in the A-10 in effective FG% defense, next to last in 2P% defense, 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, 12th in blocked shot percentage, and a comparatively strong 10th in the conference as preventing offensive boards (thanks to Ken Pomeroy for the numbers). For a relatively tall team, LaSalle does a pretty poor job at defending their own bucket.
LaSalle also struggles offensively, which probably doesn't come as a surprise considering their 4-8 conference record. They are last in the conference in avoiding having their shots blocked, and they are next to last in shooting percentage from inside the arc. Their 2P% is .437; when compared to X's .541, it gives an idea of why the Explorers have struggled so much to score. They are an excellent offensive rebounding club though; second in the conference and 27th in the nation.
Leading scorer Aaric Murray is a 6'10" sophomore center. His 15.2 PPG lead the team and 7.5 RPG are second; he also blocks more than two shots per game. Murray's game isn't solely based in the paint, either; he is 13-39 (.333) from behind the arc. Six-foot, eight-inch forward Jerrell Williams leads the team with 7.6 boards per game, and he also adds 14 PPG to the mix. Unlike Murray, he doesn't really get it done from outside (0-2), but his 92 offensive boards lead the team. Freshman guard Tyreek Durden leads the team with 4.4 APG and scores 9.6 per game; he also leads the team in minutes at 33.7 per.
LaSalle's per-game numbers are somewhat inflated on account of the fact that they play an extremely up-tempo game. They play the fastest pace in the conference - a possession per game faster than Duquesne - and are thirteenth in the nation. The tempo of tomorrow's game should give fans a good idea of how effectively Xavier has shaken off the doldrums that beset them against Fordham.
Keys to the game:
-Grind the tempo: LaSalle doesn't like having to play long half-court possessions on either end of the floor. Xavier should exploit the Explorers' inability to score in the paint and defend the glass.
-Close down the perimeter: LaSalle shoots .363 from behind the arc but are not very strong from within. If Xavier can force LaSalle to find a way to score inside, it's likely that the game could turn ugly.
-Don't let up: XU should have buried Saturday's game with their 17-4 run, but the Muskies instead let off the gas after halftime. Once X establishes a lead tomorrow, they need to pour it on until the game is well out of reach.
-Judging from Coach Mack's comments after the Fordham game, I'm guessing that Xavier is going to come out fired up and not look back. I don't think LaSalle is equipped to deal with that, so I'm giving this game a 1.5.