No. 7 Xavier Musketeers (17-13, 9-7)
Coach: Chris Mack (fourth season)
A-10 Tournament Championships: 4 (1998, 2002, 2004, 2006)
All time vs. VCU: series tied 2-2
This season: VCU 75, Xavier 71 (Feb. 23 – Cincinnati, Ohio)
Player to watch: Semaj Christon, Fr., Guard (15.4 ppg, 4.7 apg)
The rundown: Should the Rams draw the Musketeers in Friday’s quarterfinals, Christon would likely play a critical role in the outcome of the game. The last time these two teams met, the A-10 Rookie of the Year committed 10 turnovers against VCU’s Havoc full-court press. Yes, 10.
The first meeting between these two was a tale of two halves. Xavier shot an incredible 74 percent (14-of-19) in the first half and took a 39-26 lead into the lockerroom. The Musketeers extended their margin to as much as 17 points with 18:57 left before the Rams started knocking down shots and the press began wearing Xavier down. In all, VCU turned Xavier over 22 times in the game, which the Rams converted into 23 points.
Troy Daniels led four Rams in double figures in the first meeting with 19 points, including five 3-pointers. Rob Brandenberg added 18, which Treveon Graham produced 17. Dee Davis and Brad Redford scored 15 each for Xavier.
For VCU to win: More of the same. The Rams gave Christon cold sweats. I’d imagine Christon would rather sit through a double feature of “Piranha 3DD” and “Country Strong” than see VCU again. A similar performance in the press would all but pave VCU’s road to the semifinals. The Musketeers average 13.1 turnovers per game, which doesn’t jump off the page. But when you look a little closer, you’ll notice Xavier ranks 206th nationally in turnover percentage. Somewhere in a dark corner, Shaka Smart cackles.
No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (17-12, 8-8)
Coach: Phil Martelli (18th season)
A-10 Tournament Championships: 2 (1986, 1997)
All time vs. VCU: VCU leads 2-1
This season: VCU 92, Saint Joseph’s 86 OT (Jan. 17 – Richmond, Va.)
Player(s) to watch: Carl Jones (Sr., G), Langston Galloway (Jr., G)
The rundown: The Hawks were the A-10 coaches’ preseason pick to win the league, but finished 10th, which speaks more to the depth of the conference than anything else. Saint Joseph’s is marked by solid guard play, a deliberate style and a safe, but sound and effective defensive style.
Phil Martelli’s group had VCU on the ropes in the only meeting between these two teams this season on Jan. 17, but a 3-pointer by Troy Daniels and a driving layup from Darius Theus in the final seconds of regulation forced overtime, where VCU had momentum and fresher legs.
The Hawks aren’t known for gambling defensively and it shows. The Hawks rank 325th in the country in turnover percentage, while VCU leads the nation in forcing turnovers. Predictably, VCU forced 20 turnovers (to Saint Joe’s five) and outscored the Hawks 31-3 off those miscues in that six-point overtime win earlier this season.
Veteran guards Jones and Galloway lead the Hawks, but Saint Joseph’s also has league-leading shot blocker C.J. Aiken patrolling the paint, as well as capable complimentary pieces Ronald Roberts (11.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Halil Kanacevic (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) to shoulder the load.
For VCU to win: Corral Jones and Galloway and wear down the Hawks. Jones and Galloway are the type of terrific playmaking guards that can give VCU problems. The Rams will need to be effective “fixing” the back end of the press when Saint Joseph’s is able to break it. Additionally, the Hawks are using what is essentially a seven-man rotation (six players average 28 minutes or more). The Rams will hope the long-term effects of Havoc will wilt Martelli’s shallow rotation.