Xavier is desperately in need of a great Atlantic-10 season after dropping five games outside the conference. Rhode Island is trying to establish themselves as a legitimate contender for the conference title.
Saturday’s matchup in Cincinnati could be an early make-or-break game for both teams.
Xavier, having started their conference season 4-0, dropped to second place in the A-10 after Wednesday’s loss to No. 17 Temple. Rhode Island took the exact opposite route, first losing to Temple before winning three straight.
Xavier’s best win came against cross-town rival Cincinnati, which took overtime to achieve. On the other hand, Rhode Island holds several impressive non-conference wins, namely over Providence, Boston College, and Oklahoma State.
Looking at the numbers, both teams seem evenly matched.
The Rams average 79.6 points per game, just 1.3 more than the Musketeers. Rhode Island also sports better percentages in field goals and free throws, but not by more than two percent in either area. The Rams also move the ball around better, averaging two more assists per game than Xavier.
Turning to the defense, Xavier has the rebounding advantage, but Rhode Island averages more steals and blocks while committing fewer fouls per game.
Now comes the x-factor: three-point shooting.
While Rhode Island averages .326 percent from long range, Xavier has a massive advantage, shooting .405 from downtown. Their three-point game equalized Charlotte in last week’s matchup. If Rhode Island isn’t careful, it could take them down as well.
To win this game, Rhode Island needs to focus on perimeter defense and points in the paint. If they can get inside early and often, the Rams have a few competent long-range shooters of their own that can do some damage. Most importantly, you can’t forget about the mid-range jumper.
Xavier needs to stay out of foul trouble, especially in the early minutes of the first half, which has been a problem for the Musketeers so far this season. They’ll need to heavily utilize Jordan Crawford, Brad Redford, and Dante Jackson in order to establish the long-range threat.
Rhode Island is one of the most underrated teams in the country. If Xavier doesn’t respect their abilities, they could pay for it. At the same time, however, Xavier is one of the elite teams in the Atlantic-10 until proven otherwise.
Home court advantage will play a factor, but in the end, I think this game comes down to which team has the last shot. Expect a high-scoring game that will have you entertained until the final buzzer sounds.
Prediction: Rhode Island 86, Xavier 84