January 15, 2009 12:41 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Xavier at Rhode Island (Atlantic 10)
Ryan Center - Kingston, RI
7:05 PM EST
On seventh thought, maybe the conference that contains four more teams than advertised and extends to the Gateway Arch should just rename itself the American 14. Think of the marketing excitement that would generate: "The A-14... Red, white and awesome!" Besides, Conference USA is making the entire country look bad. It's time to bring the pride back.
And until further notice, the pride of the conference is an Elite 8 team from last season, now entering its slate of Winter X Games. Stocked with midsize talent, Xavier (13-2, 2-0) is among the most effective defensive teams in the entire country. Against a schedule that has included seven opponents from conferences above the Red Line, the Musketeers has allowed 36.7 percent of opponents' shots to fall. Hidden in that number is a 38.8 percent figure from inside the arc. Think about it for a second -- those are the so-called "high percentage" shots, and Xavier allows a number that looks what most teams shoot from 3. While its two A-14 opponents (Saint Louis and Fordham) haven't provided much competition, the X is shooting a conference-best 55.3 percent on its two-pointers, and head into tonight's tilt with a four-game win streak and an average winning margin of 26 points in its pair of conference games.
While Rhode Island (11-5, 0-1) isn't playing at the breakneck pace of last year, which burned the team out by the end of the season, getting back on defense is still an issue. The Rams are yielding 73.4 PA overall, and have the second-worst defensive field goal percentage (45.8) in the conference. Six-point triple-OT loss to Saint Joe's notwithstanding, that hasn't caught up with the team that much yet because of a hot offense that has put up over 80 on a regular basis and uses its possessions well. In "floor percentage," which calculates the percentage of possessions that result in at least one point scored, URI is seventh in Division I with 56.5. Jimmy Baron remains a statistical marvel in his final collegiate season, knocking down 44.6 percent of his 3's and 87 percent of his freebies. He leads the team with 17.3 ppg, and is the fifth-leading scorer in the conference.
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