As the Friars enter the final week of the Big East’s regular season they face arguably their toughest test yet, making the trip to Cincinnati to take on the #3 Xavier Musketeers on their senior night. PC (18-11, 9-7) took care of business on the road at Georgetown, defeating the Hoyas 74-69, but still probably need to get one win this week to keep their position towards a 5th consecutive NCAA Tournament intact. Xavier (25-4, 13-30), who just achieved their highest ranking in program history, has a lot to play for with their sights set on winning the Big East regular season crown and a #1 seed in the Big Dance. With both teams having a lot to play for lets get to our keys to the game.
Handling the Emotions of Senior Night
The Cintas Center will be rocking Wednesday night as the Xavier faithful will honor four seniors that have made a big impact on the program. Trevon Bluiett (19.2 ppg) and JP Macura (12.7 ppg) are the stars that led the Musketeers to the Elite 8 last season but seniors Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara are big parts of what Xavier does as well. Add that to the fact that the Mustketeers achieved their highest ranking in school history and they can win the Big East regular season by beating the Friars and DePaul on Saturday it will make for a raucous environment that they Friars must handle. The Friars can’t afford to go on big scoring draughts and allow Xavier to go on big runs. In PC’s 81-72 victory over the Musketeers back in January the biggest run Xavier went on in the game was a 7-0 spurt early in the first half. If PC can handle the tough crowd and hang around in the second half, the pressure could get to Xavier and the Friars could steal the victory.
3-Pt Line Will Be Key
In the Friars victory over Xavier at the Dunk the 3pt line played a key factor in determining the victor. PC held Xavier to 5/18 shooting from behind the arch, which equates to a pedestrian 27.8%. Three-point defense has been a staple for the Friars all season long, as they rank 34th in the nation holding opponents to 32% shooting from deep. The Friars need to continue this trend by having solid rotations and using their length to disrupt Xavier’s perimeter players. The Friars are going to have to knock down some shots from deep themselves in order to have a chance to beat the Musketeers. In the first meeting PC made 9 triples and once again must take advantage of a Xavier defense that is prone to giving up the long ball. Xavier ranks 183rd in the nation allowing opponents to make 3s at a 34.9% clip and just two weeks ago gave up a school record 16 3pt shots to Villanova. While I don’t expect the same outcome as the last time these two teams met if PC can once again win the battle from the perimeter it could go a long way in getting the victory.
Take Care of the Basketball
While it may be a staple for the Crier’s keys for PC to take care of the basketball in road games, it can’t be stressed enough in this one. Look no further than PC and Xavier’s last meeting to see the importance of taking care of the ball on the road. Xavier was a turnover machine in their trip to the Dunk back in January. The Musketeers turned the ball over 15 times, including 10 times in the first half, which allowed PC to gain a lead that they kept pretty much throughout the contest. With a tough crowd PC can’t afford to be sloppy with the basketball and most importantly Kyron Cartwright can’t be carless with the ball. In PC’s 6 road loses they turned the ball over 13.3 times per game and not surprisingly only 8.5 per game in their 4 road wins. PC will try and build off their last road game where they only turned over the ball 4 times against Georgetown. To only have 4 turnovers tomorrow may be asking for too much but if they turn the ball over no more than 10 times they have a chance.
On senior night there’s nothing better than sending your seniors off with a great performance. While playing in front of your home crowd one last time can fuel the home team to play well there’s also pressure to provide a great last performance. This was on display Tuesday night as both #9 UNC and #17 URI both lost to unranked opponents, including URI losing to a 13-15 St. Joe’s team by 30 points, Xavier also has to play with the pressure of living up to their highest ranking in school history and trying to capture their first Big East regular season crown, because Villanova probably doesn’t lose this week. PC is certainly capable of spoiling what should be a great night for the Musketeers but I don’t see it happening. Trevon Bluiett is going to want to go out in style, especially considering he played poorly the last time against PC. If PC gets the win then fantastic, it would all but sure up a trip to the NCAA tournament, but I see them dropping this one and they will get to celebrate their own senior night on Saturday.
Friars 66 Xavier 75