Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)
Any stretch a team in the Atlantic 10 plays is going to be brutal. The league is loaded top to bottom, and any team has the potential to take down any other team on any given night. If there was any stretch that can be considered deadly, it is the one La Salle is about to embark on: three straight games against the top teams in the league. Before the Explorers take on Atlantic 10 newcomers Butler and VCU, they meet old foe Xavier at the Cintas Center on Saturday.
The Musketeers (10-6, 3-0 A10) are coming off a 66-64 win over St. Bonaventure in which Freshman Semaj Christon led Xavier with 19 points and 10 assists. The 64 points that they gave up was right near their season average, which is 60.6. They rank second in the A10 in points allowed.
Xavier plays outstanding defense, especially defending the shot from beyond the arc. They only allow their opponents to make 30.2 percent of their shots from downtown, which ranks them second in the league. Overall, opponents are only making 40.4 percent of their total shots against the Musketeers, which ranks them third in the A10.
The outcome of the game for La Salle has much to do with how well they defend the 3-point shot as well. In their four losses, they are allowing teams to shoot 44.7 percent from beyond the arc, while they only allowed teams to shoot 29.1 percent in their 12 wins.
While the statistics show that shots from beyond the arc will have a significant impact on the game, the battle in the paint may be what tilts the balance one way or another. Xavier boasts a trio of forwards in their starting lineup that make a significant contribution to the Musketeers’ success.
Travis Taylor, Justin Martin and Jeff Robinson contribute a combined 27.6 points and 17.5 rebounds per game. They are very active on the boards, with Taylor leading them with 7.8 rebounds per game.
Jerrell Wright will have a heavy load on his shoulders defensively. He is coming off one of his best games of the season. He scored 16 points, including a few timely buckets, in La Salle’s 72-70 win over Dayton on Wednesday. Wrught stayed out of foul trouble, which allowed him to be a factor down the stretch of the game. His foul situation will play a huge role Saturday at the Cintas Center.
Xavier’s most effective scorer comes in the face of the freshman Christon. Christon, a 6-foot-3 guard, is averaging a team-high 14.5 points per game, and adds 5.1 assists per game. He has been named the Atlantic 10 rookie of the week three times thus far this season. The Musketeers are going through Christon on 30.7 percent of their offensive possessions, which ranks him 31st in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy.
The Cintas Center in Cincinnati is not an enjoyable place to play, especially for fellow Atlantic 10 opponents. For 13 seasons, the on-campus home of the Musketeers has haunted any A10 foe that steps onto the court. Xavier is 87-11 against Atlantic 10 teams in the Cintas Center, including 49-1 since 2007. The Musketeers held a 43-game conference home win streak that was snapped last January against Saint Louis.
La Salle will have their hands full at the Cintas Center on Saturday afternoon. Tip is set for 2 p.m.