Atlantic 10 Basketball: No. 24 VCU vs. Xavier, Preview and Prediction
Today’s game features two of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and two of the best defensive teams in the Mid-Major ranks. The Virginia Commonwealth Rams, currently rank No. 24 in the nation, come into today’s game with a lot to prove. In their previous game against the Saint Louis Billikens, the Rams were unable to get anything going on the offensive end, and suffered their largest margin of defeat this season. On the other side, the Xavier Musketeers will be looking to continue their recent success at home. The Musketeers have won five consecutive games at the Cintas Center, and will be seeking their first win against a Top 25 team this season. Check out the breakdown of each team, and the major themes that will decide this game:
#24 Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 9-3 A-10)
After leading VCU all the way to the Final Four in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Shaka Smart established himself as one of the premier coaches in the nation. Labeled as “Havoc” by Smart, the Rams have used a suffocating defense to enter the AP Top 25. While VCU is known for its defensive pressure, the Rams have developed into one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, and are currently 14th in the country in points per game. In today’s game, VCU will be looking to bounce back from its recent road woes. The Rams have lost two of their last four games on the road by an average margin of 13 points. Smart and VCU will attempt to right the ship by handing Xavier its first home loss in more than two months.
Star Player: PF Juvonte Reddic
PF - #15 Juvonte Reddic - 6’9’’ 235 - Junior
Stat Line: 27.7 MPG, 14.6 PPG, 57.8 FG%, 16.7 3PT%, 8.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Juvonte Reddic has done it all for the Rams this season, and is currently leading the team in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. Reddic is a double-double machine and ranks 2nd in the A-10 in double-doubles with 10 on the season. The most impressive part of Reddic’s game is his skill at the power forward position. As a scorer, he has significantly improved his efficiency on the offensive end, and is 2nd in the A-10 in field goal percentage. He has been especially good from mid-range. After shooting 33 percent on two-point jumpers during his sophomore season, Reddic is currently converting on 43 percent of his mid-range j’s.
Strengths: Rebounding, Mid-Range Game
Weaknesses: Inconsistency Around the Rim
Xavier Musketeers (15-10, 8-4 A-10)
With the graduation of leading scorer Tu Holloway after last season, the Musketeers had a major void to fill. Freshman Semaj Christon stepped in, and has been a star since day one. In the A-10 conference ranks, Christon is 6th in assists and 7th in scoring. The strong play of the freshman point guard has led Xavier to a successful season, as the Musketeers are currently 15-10 on the season, and are ranked 4th in the Atlantic 10 standings. Xavier utilizes a very old-fashioned game plan, and possesses the slowest paced offense in the A-10. The stagnant pace of games has led Xavier to have the No. 1 scoring defense in the A-10, and the Musketeers yield just 61.2 points per contest. After going just 4-4 in their its last eight games, Xavier will be looking to rebound by pulling the upset, and continuing to dominate at home.
Star Player: PG Semaj Christon
PG - #0 Semaj Christon - 6’3’’ 187 - Freshman
Stat Line: 33.3 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 45.4 FG%, 17.4 3PT%, 4.4 APG, 2.8 APG, 1.5 SPG
After spending a prep year at Brewster Academy, Christon has burst onto the scene as one of the best freshmen in the nation. He is an exceptional talent who displays a tight handle and excellent vision from the point guard spot. Out of Xavier’s 26 games this season, Christon has had five or more assists in 13 games. He uses his dribble to break down his defender and get to the rim, where he is an acrobatic finisher. As a shooter, Christon possesses a consistent mid-range game out to 15-feet, but is a non-factor from long-range, and has made just four total three-pointers as a freshman.
Strengths: Penetrating and Finishing, Facilitating
Weaknesses: Ball Security, Limited Range on Jumper
3 Keys To The Game: #1 - How Will The Musketeers Handle The VCU Pressure?
The major factor in today’s game is the ability of Christon to cope with the tenacious VCU defense, which leads the A-10 in forced turnovers with an average of 18.5 per game. The backcourt combo of Darius Theus and Briante Weber are currently leading VCU in steals with averages of 2.7 and 2.9, respectively. Christon has struggled with his ball security all season, and is currently leading the A-10 in turnovers per game with an average of 3.7. Theus and Weber will look to suffocate him on the perimeter and force him to make plays off the dribble. Christon’s ability to handle the VCU pressure will ultimately determine which team comes away with the W.
3 Keys To The Game: #2 - Can The Rams Compensate For A Significant Lack of Size?
VCU's biggest weakness in today’s conference matchup is its overall lack of size throughout its rotation. The Rams deploy a four-guard starting lineup, and have only one player 6’6’’ or taller in their starting five. The Musketeers’ size advantage will be especially evident on the boards. Xavier is currently 4th in the A-10 in rebounds per game, and allows the least amount of opponent rebounds in the conference. In order to prevent Xavier from exploiting the size mismatch, VCU will be forced to play its lengthy reserves, such as: Jarred Guest (6’8’’) and DJ Haley (7’0’’). VCU’s lack of size is its only disadvantage in today’s game, and it will be very interesting to see how Smart alters his game plan to compensate.
3 Keys To The Game: #3 - Will Christon Continue His Hot Streak?
Christon comes into today’s game playing the best basketball of his Xavier career. After scoring double figures in nine of his first 12 games, Christon has dropped double-digits in 13 consecutive games. He has been especially good in the last three weeks, and has averaged 16.6 points over his last five games. The most impressive aspect of his recent play has been his fearlessness in attacking the rim. Christon averaged 4.8 free-throw attempts over the first 20 games of the season. During the last five games, he has averaged 8.4 attempts from the charity stripe, including a career-high 13 free-throw attempts against the Richmond Spiders on Feb. 2. Christon's ability to create off the dribble and get to the rack will be essential if Xavier is going to pull off the upset.
The suffocating on-ball pressure of VCU will prove too much for the talented, but mistake prone point guard. The rebounding disparity will keep the game close, however, I see VCU bouncing back from its previous loss to Saint Louis, and downing the Musketeers on the road.
Final Score: VCU 65 - Xavier 59