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Xavier v. Rhode Island: Preview

"There’s two seasons: There’s your non-conference season and then your conference season. And I think our non-conference season has really prepared us for our conference season. We took a tough loss but we’ve got to turn our thoughts to Rhode Island." -Jamel McLean

Xavier opens the second season with a road test against URI. The Rams are unranked and sit at 9-5 on the season. Because Jerry Palm hasn't updated his RPI since Monday, I'm using ESPN's rankings when I say that URI is 54th, one spot above the Muskies. Their strength of schedule is good for 80th in the country, while XU sits at 27th. It also bears mentioning that URI just played Florida on Monday and lost by 25.

Rhode Island has a balanced scoring attack, featuring four regulars in double figures per game. Senior forward Delroy James leads the charge at 19.4 per; he has hit 22 threes this year and shoots them at a .328 clip. Nikola Malesevic measures 6' 7" and gives URI another tall player who can shot from outside. He has connected on 25 of his 45 attempts this year for a stunning .556 percentage. Guards Marquis Jones and Akeem Richmond each add 10.4 points per game and both make more than a third of their attempts from beyond the arc; Jones also adds 3.5 assists per game with an A/TO of almost 2. Orion Outerbridge, just back from an ankle injury that delayed the start of his season by a dozen games, is averaging 10 PPG.

While Rhode Island isn't as deep as UC, they still get more than a quarter of their minutes off the bench. Not counting Outerbridge's contributions in his two games, they have eight players getting at least 14 minutes per game; Xavier features only six who get that much time. Despite an effective height of 35th in the nation, Rhode Island isn't an especially good rebounding team. They pull down offensive boards on 32.1% of their shots; their opponents have gotten them at a 35.4% clip against the Rams.

What they can do is shoot; .366 from three, .487 from inside the arc, and .710 from the line, all marks that put them above average in the country. Their offensive efficiency is blunted by an inability to get to the line though, with 255 trips in 14 games. In terms of FT attempted for every FG attempted, 297 teams are better at getting to the charity stripe that Rhode Island.

Overall, Rhode Island is a big team that doesn't do the things associated with height. They shoot well from outside and play a slightly up-tempo game, but don't protect their own glass or get to the other team's particularly well. This could be the matchup Xavier needs to get back on track.

Keys to the game:
-Force the post: Xavier's offense last year was extremely guard oriented, with Jason Love getting his points through efficiency and work rate more than being the focus of the offense. With Holloway and Lyons each one link further up the scoring food chain and Crawford out of the picture, this team needs to look inside early and often. The UC game only got out of hand when McLean and Frease stopped getting touches; X needs to avoid a similar mistake here.

-Check the shooters: Rhode Island gets more than a third of its points from behind the arc (good for 56th in the nation) and less than half of them inside it (248th). They rank 292nd in the nation in percentage of points from the free throw stripe. Holloway, Lyons, and Jackson are going to have to force URI out of its offensive comfort zone and - paradoxically - closer to the basket.

-Grind: Fast breaks and quick shots early in possessions are signs that a team is guard-oriented. With McLean having been a viable post option of late and Kenny coming into his own, Xavier should take time to allow post options to develop, even if this means kicking the ball out and trying the post more than once in a given possession. If the numbers aren't there on the fastbreak, Tu and Cheek have better options than to drive into traffic.

-Start fresh: Last game's train wreck is behind us; the only thing that matters now is the conference season. Coach Mack should have the Muskies focused on that and ready to go tomorrow night.

Winnability factor:
A Florida team that Xavier played tough beat URI like a rented mule, and Xavier is itching to put the Crosstown Shootout in the rear view. I give this one a 2.