Xavier needs help. Not in the sense that they need to figure out how a team with so much talent is getting such bad results - though they need that kind of help as well. Instead Xavier needs help from people or groups thereof that have absolutely no interest in helping the Muskies. You don't get to the tournament from where Xavier is without three specific things happening. First of all, other bubble teams need to lose. That almost goes without saying, but Xavier need to have its resume shine by comparison. Second, favored teams have to win their conference tournaments. The more teams who weren't going to make it as an at large win auto bids, the fewer at large bids are left hanging out there. Finally, Xavier has to win. Judging by recent evidence, this is by no means a simple proposition.
Fortunately for Xavier, this weekend's game is both (1) at home and (2) against Richmond. To say that the Spiders have struggled this year is to put it lightly. Richmond managed to do almost no damage - except to their own tournament chances - in the non-conference schedule. Their best win was over Old Dominion at home in overtime. Other than that, they lost to every decent team they played. In conference, they have somehow contrived to beat Temple by eleven and then lose to George Washington by 18 the next week. Their best performance probably came in a 102-58 win over Fordham, which they followed with three straight losses before beating La Salle. Overall, Richmond is 15-14 with a 6-8 conference record. They've been somewhat inconsistent to say the least.
Scanning Richmond's offensive style is a gut-punch to Xavier fans. First of all, they almost never turn the ball over, coughing it up on 17.7% of their possessions (32nd in the country). More troubling is Richmond's performance from behind the arc; the team is both proficient (36.1%) and prolific (42% of their shot attempts; 21st most frequent in the nation) from deep. If that news didn't make your stomach turn a little, you haven't been watching Xavier lately. Richmond is also very good from the free throw line, shooting 75.6% as a team. On the interior, the Spiders are poor shooting, ranking 199th in the nation at 47%. They also only rebound 28% of their own misses, "good" for 292nd in the country.
Defensively, the Spiders focus almost exclusively on the perimeter. Teams shoot only 31.8% from deep against Richmond, and are only allowed to take a quarter of their shots from behind the arc. Only six teams in the country are better at denying opponents three-point attempts. Only five teams are better at keeping teams from scoring from behind the arc. This doesn't come from serious ball pressure - Richmond forces turnovers at an average rate - so I'm guessing that they simply focus on closing down shooters rather than helping against driving players. The fact that they reject 12.6% of their opponents' shots (40th best in the nation) also suggests that they're comfortable letting a driving player reach the lane. One thing they can't do is protect the glass; opponents pull in rebounds on more than 36% of their own missed shots.
Junior Darien Brothers starts at the shooting guard for Richmond, putting up 13.4/2.8/1.7 on .398/.370/.889 shooting. The most obvious thing that jumps out about Brothers is that he shoots a ton without being very good at it. Despite that, he puts up the second best ORtg on the team because he's able to get to the line and convert (88-99 on the year) and almost never turns the ball over (1.2 per game, 11.7% TO rate). He also has picked up 26 steals in the team's 29 games. At 6'3", 205, Brothers figures to be a handful for Xavier's guards.
Cedrick Lindsay, a 6', 190 pound sophomore runs the point for the Spiders. He goes for 11.3/2.6/3.9 with 1.1 steals and 2.3 turnovers per game. He is shooting .410/.354/.805 on the year. Lindsay isn't really any larger than Tu and Cheeks, but neither was Chaz Williams, and he eviscerated the Muskies. More pertinently to this Saturday's game, Lindsay has a knack for getting to the line (118 FTA) and assists 26.6% of the team's buckets when he's on the floor.
Derrick Williams is a sophomore forward whose height (6'6") suggests he's a wing but whose bulk (270 lbs) indicates he might also have a home in the paint. In reality, he works somewhere in between, posting 11.2/5.4/0.8 on .537/.316/.773 shooting. He has hit 12 of the 38 threes he's taken this year. Ordinarily I'd assume that doesn't make him a viable threat from outside, but Xavier has had a knack for turning face-up fours into Larry Bird this year, so it's hard to be too sure.
Francis-Cedric Martel, on the other hand, is an out-and-out wing, standing 6'6" and weighing 205 pounds. He is good for 5.3/3.4/1.4 with a steal per game on .370/.350/.660 shooting. Martel only takes 14% of the team's shots while he's on the floor, so he's not exactly the focal point of the offense. Still, that 21-60 mark from deep is enough to be worrisome.
Darrius Garret is the eraser in the middle of the Richmond defense. He's a 6'9" senior center and he blocks almost 13% of all two-point shots taken by opponents when he's on the floor. That comes to about 3.5 blocks per game for him. He also posts game averages of 4.8/6.8/1.0 on .415/.167/.661. He gets those rebounds by grabbing 23% of all opponents' misses while he's on the floor. Basically, he plays because he's the only Spider capable of rebounding or blocking shots, and he's very good at both.
Richmond's number one reserve is 5'8" freshman guard Kendall Anthony. Despite not being very physically imposing - he tips the scales at 140 pounds - Anthony pours home buckets to the tune of 13.2/1.3/1.7 on .420/.430/.792 shooting. He takes almost 30% of the team's shots when he's on the floor. He comes off the bench really looking to do only one thing, and that's score the basketball. Fortunately for his chances of getting a free education, he's very good at it.
Six-foot-five swing man Greg Robbins gets about 15 minutes off the bench and uses that time to go for 3.2/2.5/1.0. Josh Duinker is a 6'11" senior center from Australia who gets 11 minutes or so per game. He's good for 3.7 and 2.0 and shoots 32.5% from deep but just 29.4% from the line. In other words, if he goes up for a three, you're statistically better served to hack him than let him shoot it.
-Can Xavier adjust to a hot shooting team? Xavier's system of defense - digging to the post, hedging ball screens, helping on drives - is designed to make interior scoring difficult at the expense of allowing some exterior attempts. Apparently, the Atlantic Ten has figured this out, because the league's new hobby against Xavier is to make the game look like the three-point shooting contest at the NBA All-Star weekend. I understand what Coach Mack is trying to do with his defensive philosophy, but it hasn't been working of late. If X wants to revive its tournament hopes, the changes start on the defensive end.
-Can Kenny Frease summon a run? Kenny Frease has been inconsistent this year, but he had 12 and 8 against UMass. More encouragingly than the numbers was the manner in which he got them. Frease shot 5-7/0-0/2-2 on the game and never really looked like he was the focal point of the offense. Instead, he got a couple of dump-offs, grabbed a couple of loose balls, and finished strongly at the rim. On the defensive end, he avoided the cheap fouls to which he usually falls victim and rebounded with an authority commensurate to his status as the biggest guy on the floor. It's too late for Frease to get his season numbers up to where we all thought they would be at the start of the year, but performances like the one he had on Tuesday would go a long way towards giving Xavier anything in the paint.
-Who guards Williams? Derrick Williams is built like a fire hydrant but is significantly more mobile. He has about 55 pounds on any of the Walker/Taylor/Robinson contingent that might usually be called upon to guard the opponent's second-tallest big man. He's also a very good offensive rebounder, grabbing a little over ten percent of his team's misses. Darius Garrett is nominally the Spiders' center, but he doesn't get to the offensive glass like Williams does and can't shoot a lick. Big Kenny would have trouble with Williams on the perimeter, but he's already out there picking up fouls on hedges anyway, so it might behoove Xavier to have the big man try to negate Williams' impact on the glass.
-Guard the perimeter. Just like Xavier's last two opponents, Richmond loves to shoot the three. Unlike those last two teams, the Spiders are actually good at it. We've made much to do on this site about the risks involved with allowing 30 three-point attempts per game and the necessity of challenging shooters. More than almost any other team Xavier has faced this year, Richmond is designed to hang around until they can get hot from deep and blow their opponent out of the building. A hot streak from UMass put Xavier in an insanely tenuous position for an at-large bid. Playing that same level of defense against Richmond means hosting a first-round NIT game.
-Come out prepared. Xavier was a circus of early errors again at UMass, and only the Minutemen's early offensive ineptitude kept that game from becoming a laugher sooner than it did. Time and again, Xavier has come out of the locker room in games both large and small this year and taken 20 minutes to remember what they showed up to do. Richmond isn't the best or most talented team Xavier will play this season, but they do have shooters. Being as effective from deep as Richmond is as a team gives you a puncher's chance against anyone, and early lapses could easily translate into an early hole for X.
-Move the basketball. The Musketeer offense tends to stagnate - as all offenses do - when one player spends too much time on the ball contemplating his next move. Richmond has proven to be a very difficult team to crack on the perimeter, but that's a problem that extra passes always help to fix. Same thing goes for having a big eraser in the middle of the defense. If Xavier keeps the pumpkin moving, they'll be able to open holes in the Richmond defense. If they spend a lot of time aimless dribbling around the perimeter, get ready for an evening full of asinine 17-foot jump shots.
The string is out on this Xavier season. It would be disingenuous at this point to believe that Xavier controls its own destiny in regards to an at-large bid, but they are still somehow in with a shout. This coming Tuesday, Xavier will travel to Chaifetz Arena to face the smothering defense of Saint Louis. It's hard to imagine that game going well, but for it to even matter, Xavier has to take care of business against Richmond. The Cintas Center used to be a fortress in conference play, and by and large that still hold true. The Muskies simply cannot allow Richmond's shooters to keep the Spiders in this game. It has been a while since Xavier basketball has been in straights this desperate; all X can do now is leave it all on the floor.