Setting: Atlantic 10 heavyweights collide when Chris Mooney brings his No.23 Richmond Spiders (22-6 / 11-2) to the Cintas Center to face Chris Mack’s Xavier Musketeers (20-7/ 11-2).
Plot: A piece of first place is at stake. The Spiders and Musketeers sit atop the A-10 with the Temple Owls.
Sub-plot: Richmond is undefeated in the month of February and brings an eight-game winning streak into the contest. The Spiders have been ranked back-to-back weeks for the first time since the 1957-58 season. Xavier has won their last four and finishes February with only their second home game of the month.
Xavier is undefeated at home this season.
The A-10 has 18 victories over BCS schools. Nine different teams have posted non-conference triumphs over the BCS conferences. Temple leads the way with four victories. Richmond, Rhode Island, and Xavier each have three.
Flashback: Richmond and Xavier closed the regular season a year ago. Kevin Anderson scored 29, Justin Harper Harper chipped 20 off the bench as the Spiders took an 80-75 decision.
Xavier leads the series 10-3.
Xavier has earned 20 NCAA Tournament berths, including last year’s Sweet Sixteen run and Elite Eight showings in 2008 and 2004. Richmond has been invited to the Dance seven times, including most recently in 2004.
Foreshadowing: Two Spiders have laced them up in the National Basketball Association: Johnny Newman and John Schweitz. Sixteen Musketeers have played in the Association, including current stars Derrick Brown, James Posey, and David West.
Conflict: In five seasons under Mooney, Richmond has allowed 70 or more points just 37 times. The Spiders rank in top 20 nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.7), scoring defense (60.2), and 3-pt. percentage defense (28.6). Richmond is also 14th in the nation with a turnover margin of 4.4. The Spiders play a stingy match-up zone that confuses opponents and limits open opportunities.
Xavier averages over 79 points per game. The Muskies have only lost twice this season when hitting the magic mark of 70. One of those defeats came in double overtime at Wake Forest. The Muskies have a rebound margin of +4.7 while the Spiders struggle at -4.6.
Kevin Anderson leads three Spiders in double figures. The junior point guard scores 17.5 while handing out 2.7 assists. Anderson is joined in the back court by senior, David Gonzalvez. The senior scores 13.6 a game and leads the Spiders with 56 threes.
Justin Harper leads the Spiders with 5.8 rebounds. The junior adds 10 points a game.
Ryan Butler and Darrius Garrett combine for 10 points and six and a half rebounds.
Dan Geriot provides valuable minutes off the bench for the Spiders. The junior scores seven and grabs four boards.
Jordan Crawford leads the Muskies with 20 points. He adds almost five rebounds and three assists. The shooting guard leads the X-Men with 60 from behind the arc and hits 40 percent from long range. Crawford mixes his game well for a deadly combination. He can hit from 20 feet and go off the dribble depending upon the situation.
Terrell Holloway has ignited the Xavier offense all season. The sophomore point guard maintains a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. Holloway finishes 84 percent of his free throws.
Jason Love is nothing short of dominant in the paint. When on, the senior’s jump hook can be indefensible. Love scores 11.8 and grabs 8.4 boards.
Jamel McLean averages eight points and seven rebounds. The junior plays his best against the best. McLean has four double-doubles this season, including performances at Wake Forest and Charlotte. McLean has six double-digit rebounding nights and eight double-digit scoring games.
Dante Jackson rounds out the starting five for Xavier. The junior scores six and grabs three rebounds. Jackson draws the toughest defensive assignment.
Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons log valuable minutes off the bench. Brad Redford has been hobbled of late with a bad hip.
Resolution: Richmond will try to slow down this game. The Spiders want to keep the Musketeers in the 60s. This will only work if Richmond can stymie Xavier in transition. Mooney’s club already struggles on the glass. Can they afford to give up offensive rebounding chances to stop Xavier from getting easy buckets?
Xavier has too many ways to score. The Muskies will win the battle of the boards and in particular on the offensive glass. Love, McLean, and Frease will lead the way as Xavier takes a close one.