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Xavier v. Fordham: Preview

Santa brought Fordham at 13-game losing streak.
On Wednesday, December 22nd, Fordham was a respectable 6-4 and only 11 days removed from a victory over a solid St. John's team. That same day, X had just fallen to 7-3 thanks to a road loss to Gonzaga and the Muskies were still smarting from a somewhat embarrassing loss at Miami (OH). Since that date, the Rams have gone 0-13 and 0-11 in conference play; if you're reading this site, I'm going to assume that you know what Xavier has done. The respective post-Yuletide performances of these teams have put Xavier 19th in the RPI and Fordham 248th.

Fordham is an amalgamation of almost all of the factors that make a team bad. Their shooting percentage is 211th in the country from outside the arc, 291st from the free throw line, and 311th from inside the arc. They're also bad at keeping care of the ball (14 TPG, team A/TO under one) and getting to the free throw line (310th in the nation in FTA per FGA). To top it all off, they have the tenth fewest bench minutes in the nation, meaning that coach Tom Pecora has so little faith in his reserves that he'd rather watch the guys putting up the above mentioned stats play than put someone from the bench into the game.

The first thing that jumps out at me about Fordham (other than the fact that they're bad) is how horribly inefficient they are on offense. Not a single regular player on the team posts a good shooting line. Leading scorer (and rebounder) Chris Gaston's is marred by a horrible .552 mark from the line. Brenton Butler gets 14.2 PPG but shoots .340/.822/.287. Branden Frazier tallies 12.1 PPG with the team's best shooting line of .415/.685/.362, which is analogous to Mark Lyons with Kenny Frease's free throw shooting abilities. Alberto Estwick posts a .381/.667/.362 line and gets 10.2 PPG; Lamount Samuell is the team's next leading scorer, and he shoots 28.3% from the floor on his way to 4.7 PPG.

As a team, Fordham scores 1.12 points per shot. For comparison's sake, Xavier gets 1.36 PPS. If you ignore things like turnovers and rebounds and assume each team somehow manages to shoot the same number of times from the floor, XU could expect a 15-point win from a 60-shot game. Fordham's entire team gets the same amount of points per shot Dante Jackson does, and we quantify him as "struggling." Only one player on the Rams' entire roster out-PPSes Jeff Robinson. What I'm trying to say is that Fordham is bad at scoring.

To add to their struggles, Fordham is also bad at defending the glass (232nd nationally in offensive rebound percentage allowed) and horrible at forcing turnovers. Only three teams in the nation force fewer turnovers per opponent possession than Fordham does. When coupled with their own aforementioned trouble holding onto the ball, this creates a disparity in meaningful possessions that the Rams don't have the talent to overcome. Simply put, Xavier should bury the game tomorrow night.

Keys to the game:

-Execute early: Despite their struggles, Fordham did somehow be St. John's, who has since gone on to beat Duke. Aside from the fact that a win over Fordham would make X scientifically better than Duke, the Muskies need to be sharp early to dispel any thoughts of giant-killing Fordham might have.

-Build forward: Xavier is going to need Dante to be a consistent threat if they want to advance in March, and these are the kinds of games that he should be using to shoot himself into rhythm. Identifying some capable reserves and re-acclimating Jay Canty to game-speed basketball should also be priorities in a game where the outcome should be a foregone conclusion.

-Rest some legs: Tu, Cheek, and Dante have all played more than 86% of the minutes available to them this year; getting far enough ahead that they could spend the last five minutes on the bench wearing towels on their heads would be nice. Also, the Cintas faithful deserve to see the three-headed monster in action.

Toughness factor:

-This is the easiest game Xavier is going to face all year, and that includes their pre-season game against D-II Bellarmine. I'm sure Coach Mack would assert that the team doesn't look past any opponent, but I don't see any way this is anything other than a 1.