Two of the Atlantic 10 Conference's best are set for a Saturday afternoon showdown, as the Xavier Musketeers welcome the 24th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth Rams to the Cintas Center.
VCU battled Saint Louis on the road on Tuesday night with first place in the A-10 on the line, but it fell in a 76-62 final for its first loss since dropping a decision to La Salle on Jan. 26. The Rams are still sitting pretty this season at 21-6 overall, and at 9-3 in the league they aren't out of the hunt for the A-10's regular-season championship.
After dropping a road tilt against Dayton on Feb. 16 (70-59), Xavier bounced back on Wednesday night with a solid 55-42 win at Rhode Island to improve to 15-10 on the season and 8-4 in conference. The Musketeers have been unbelievable at home the last several years, as they have won 52 of their last 53 conference games at the Cintas Center.
These newly-formed league rivals have met just three times previously, with VCU winning two of those matchups.
The Rams found themselves down by 17 at the half in their latest bout, and even though they outscored Saint Louis after the break they could not overcome a modest shooting effort (.444) and a bad performance at the foul line (8- of-15). Juvonte Reddic (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Treveon Graham (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles for VCU, although Graham struggled mightily from the floor (4-of-16). Melvin Johnson added 10 points off the bench. On the season, the Rams own the A-10's top scoring offense, netting 77.5 ppg on greater than 45 percent field goal efficiency. Graham is the top option with 15.6 ppg to go along with 6.0 rpg. Reddic has a fantastic field goal percentage (.578) en route to his 14.6 ppg, and his presence in the paint is felt at both ends of the court as he adds 8.3 rpg, 1.4 spg and 0.9 bpg. Troy Daniels (12.0 ppg) drains 3.5 3-pointers per contest at a 40.3 percent clip, and Rob Bradenberg rounds out the balanced attack with 10.4 ppg.
Xavier's offensive performance earlier in the week was far from impressive, as it made a mere 40 percent of its field goal attempts, but it was still able to cruise to the 13-point victory by play outstanding defense, holding Rhode Island to just 24.1 percent shooting, the lowest for any XU opponent this season. Semaj Christon was off the mark (4-of-12), but he still finished with 16 points thanks to an 8-of-8 showing at the foul line, and Travis Taylor tallied 13 points and a career-high 17 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. The Musketeers incorporate a slow style of play, which allows them to rank 13th in the A-10 in scoring (64.7 ppg) despite boasting the conference's top-ranked field goal percentage (.462). The pace has helped them more than it's hurt however, as they own the second-ranked scoring defense (61.2 ppg). Christon is in the midst of a great freshman season with 15.2 ppg (.454 FG percentage) and 4.4 apg, while Taylor is a mainstay in the frontcourt with 11.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg.