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Xavier v. Temple: Preview

Xavier hosts Temple tomorrow afternoon at 3 in a pivotal A-10 game. X leads the A-10 with a 4-0 conference record; Temple is 3-1 in A-10 play, with their only loss coming to conference co-leader Duquense. Xavier is the current conference leader in RPI at 32nd; Temple is hot on their heels in 37th. I don't have to tell you how important this game is for X. Brad has taken care of that.

The calling card of this Temple team is its defense. Temple's opponents effective FG% - a stat that shows what percentage a team would have to shoot to maintain its level of scoring without scoring from behind the arc or at the free throw line - is 43.8; only 19 defenses in the nation hold their opponents below that mark. Temple allows their opponents to connect at a respectable .331 clip from three-point territory, but their .416 rate inside the arc is tenth-best in the country. The percentages of opponents possessions Temple ends with a block or a steal are both in the top 60 (36 and 56, respectively). Finally, the Owls protect their glass, allowing offensive rebounds on only 26.5% of opponents' missed shots; that number is good for ninth in the nation.

Temple is not a deep team; only about a quarter of their minutes come off the bench. If you've been watching at all, you'll note that they are still deeper than X. Moore, Fernandez, Allan, and Randall all get more than half an hour of playing time per game. Reserve forwards Michael Eric and Rahlir Jefferson both add to Temple's defensive prowess (see below) and rebound fairly well. Khalif Wyatt gets almost 8 PPG from the bench as a guard thanks to his .536/.813/.429 shooting line. Finally, TJ DiLeo and his .313 FG% spell the other, better guards for about 14 minutes per game.

Like UMass, Temple is not a great outside shooting team (.307 3P%). Unlike UMass, Temple hits more than half of their two-point FGA and gets a whopping 60.2% (12th in the nation) of their points from inside the arc. For a team with such interior prowess, the Owls are bafflingly bad at getting to the free-throw line. Temple ranks 272nd in the nation in this category, which contributes the the fact that they are 273rd in the nation in terms of percentage of points from the stripe. Temple garners an offensive rebound on 32.5% of their missed shots, which is almost bang on national average, but again lower than one might expect from a team whose offense eschews shooting from distance.

Junior guard Ramon Moore leads the charge for Temple on offense with 15.2 PPG. He uses 27% of the team's possessions when he is on the floor and leads them in field goals made, three-pointers made, and free throws made. His shooting line of .441/.759/.383 stands in sharp contrast to that of second-leading scorer (10.7 PPG) Juan Fernandez' .356/.711/.268. The 6'9" Lavoy Allen handles the heavy lifting inside, getting 10.6 PPG and 6.2 RPG. He and 6'11" junior Michael Eric each block 1.6 shots per game, and Eric does it in just 18.6 minutes.

This game figures to be a clash of two similar styles at both ends of the court. Neither team shoots the three particularly well, with both teams ranked below 250th in the nation in 3P%. Both teams also pride themselves on interior defense, with Xavier's "pack line" defense and Temple's shot-swatting big men making life inside the arc miserable for opponents. As neither team is accustomed to scoring in bunches from outside the arc, it will be a strength-against-strength contest tomorrow afternoon at Cintas.

Keys to the game:
-Outwork Temple's bigs: Temple's big men are defensively stalwart, and the whole team does a good job of keeping opponents off the offensive glass. Xavier's forwards are going to have to put forth a great collective effort for the Muskies to enjoy an advantage inside.

-Pack the defense: Not only does Temple shoot the three poorly, but they don't shoot it that often. Xavier's starting guards have attempted more threes than Temple's entire team. X needs to focus on cutting off dribble penetration and shutting down the post.

-Come out ready: This Musketeer team has a horrible habit of putting itself in a hole early before clawing back late. You can get away with that against St. Bonaventure, but you don't want to run that risk against Temple.

Toughness factor:
-A conference game against a motivated opponent with early A-10 leadership on the line. Xavier and Temple are two teams structured to make life difficult for each other; this one is a 3.