#17 Providence, coming off a 2-0 week, looks to attain a statement win against the #16 Xavier Musketeers. Both teams are tied atop the Big East leaderboard and jockeying for the Big East crown alongside Marquette. While Xavier will undoubtedly be the favorites at home, Providence finally has all of their pieces healthy and in place. This is not the same team that lost to Marquette and Creighton on the road a few weeks back.
These are the type of games with ramifications that Providence fans could only dream about being a part of in the past. Stealing a win against Xavier at Cintas Center would put them in pole position for the Big East crown at this stage of the season and would have massive implications for NCAA tournament seeding. This is the type of win that bumps you up a seed come March, as I don’t anticipate seeing Xavier do the similar free-fall that we’ve come to know from them over the past few years. Sean Miller has this program humming along, and they’ll continue to be a Top 25 squad all season. You aren’t supposed to win these games in conference on the road.
We preview the game below, provide predictions, and detail what PC has to do to get a road W.
Xavier Team Preview
17-5, 9-2 in Big East
Souley Boom – 16 points/game, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 44% from 3
Zach Freemantle – 15 points, 8 rebounds, 64% from 3
Colby Jones – 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 41% from 3
Jack Nunge – 14 points, 8 rebounds, 39% from 3
Adam Kunkel – 10 points, 40% from 3
|Points/Game||83.2 (1st in Big East)||78.4 (4th)|
|3 Point FG %||39.8 (1st in Big East)||33.9 (7th)|
|Rebounds||37.6 (4th)||39.5 (2nd)|
|Assists||20.7 (1st)||14.5 (6th)|
|Total Turnovers||290 (9th)||284 (7th)|
|Blocks||3.77 (8th)||4.95 (1st)|
|Free Throws/Game||19.3 (4th)||23.1 (1st)|
|FG %||50.2 (2nd)||47.2 (4th)|
Keys to Game
Defense, Defense, Defense – Offensively, Xavier does everything better than Providence. Their field goal percentage is better, all five starters are assassins from deep, they move the ball well, and they convert at an extremely efficient rate. If this game turns into a track meet on the road, Providence will get their doors blown off them. This is a VERY good Xavier team.
Providence needs to do what it does best and muck this game up. PC needs to get into the shirts of the Xavier players and see if they are willing to play a physical game of basketball. If Providence is giving Xavier a cushion, they will either bury the deep ball or find the open man with crisp ball movement. If Providence is going to lose, I’d rather it be on Xavier showing they can consistently blow by the Providence defender in man-to-man and finish. I’m not certain they can do that against this Friar squad, to be honest. I am certain, however, that if Providence leaves them open from deep, they will torch the Friars.
The Providence bigs cannot be lulled to sleep by Nunge and Freemantle on the perimeter. It is easy to see a 6’10 and 7 footer out there and assume they aren’t a threat, but that isn’t the case. All five starters shoot 39% or better from deep. The bigs will hit the three ball consistently. Force Nunge and Freemantle to put the ball on the deck. Don’t give them an easy look from deep.
If there is one flaw of Xavier on the offensive end, it is that they can be careless with the rock. Cooley needs to emphasize the importance of tight man defense and pressuring the ball handle. All five starters on Xavier average more than one turnover a game, with Freemantle and Jones averaging over 2.5 turnovers. Pressure man defense will lead to turnovers and easy transition buckets for the Friars.
Providence fans also need to hope that the refs are calling a game where they swallow their whistle a bit. If this game is one where the refs are calling every ticky-tack foul, it is going to be a long night for the Friars.
Name of the game in this one is defense, and I personally think the Friars will be up for it.
Know Thyself on Offense – There are going to be a few spurts where Xavier buries a few deep balls in a row, and Cintas will be rocking. The Musketeers haven’t gotten this far because they are a fluke. They are a really quality team that I think has Final 4 potential.
When this inevitably happens, Providence cannot try to settle the score with three balls of their own. PC is not the three point shooting team that Xavier is, nor should they try to be. Cooley needs to emphasize attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and scoring in the paint. You want to make Xavier defend and not settle for contested threes like we did so many times against Villanova. Carter and Hopkins, in particular, are too athletic to settle for jumpers. Unless Providence has a wide open look from three, every single possession should be one where PC is playing downhill and looking to finish at the rim.
Play to the Mismatches on Offense – I see two players that should thrive in this one: Devin Carter and Bryce Hopkins. I say that because I’m not sure who can effectively guard them. I presume Boum will be on Breed/Bynum, and that is a wash. Nunge will be on Croswell. That is a wash. Who guards Carter? Kunkel? Carter is too physical and too much of an athlete for Kunkel. Jones? Carter has the foot speed to blow by Jones.
Similarly, who guards Hopkins? Jones somewhat has the size to match Bryce, but I’m not sure has the same physicality and strength. Freemantle cannot defend him out on the perimeter.
I think Sean Miller is a fantastic coach, and he’ll devise something that frustrates these two, but I believe Carter and Hopkins pose massive problems for Xavier on defense.
This is a Big East Championship type match-up. Xavier has a ton of talent and is playing well. Most important, they are completely bought into what Sean Miller is preaching. Providence fans should know above all others how important culture and buying-in is.
When I look at this Xavier squad, I see last year’s Providence team. They are carbon copies of each other. This entire Xavier team is old as hell, and I mean that in the best way. How many times did we hear last year how Providence’s experience helped them out end of game? That is Xavier this year. On top of that, Providence last year added a transfer PG to lead the team and close out games. Sound familiar? Xavier did the exact same thing.
While Xavier on paper is the better team and is at home, Providence has a lot going for it as well. Providence has the athletic ability to play stifling man to man defense. They also have match-up nightmares in Carter and Hopkins. Bynum is returning to healthy form, and we saw against Villanova that he can carry a game. Heck, even Xavier saw it last year when he put on the cape.
This is going to be a fun one, and Providence fans should just enjoy this game rather than putting any expectations on the outcome. It’s difficult to win on the road, let alone against a team tied with you atop the Big East. Enjoy seeing two Top 20 squads go at it.
BOC: I have heaped endless praise on this Xavier team in the preview, and rightly so, but I have a weird feeling Providence pulls this one out. PC 78 – Xavier 77.
Crier: If Travis Steele was running the show I’m taking the Friars in a landslide. Unfortunately for us Sean Miller is back in charge and remade their culture instantly. Xavier has a better offense but the Friars boast a pretty robust offense as well. I’m not looking for the Friars to muck it up per se but try and slow the game around a tad. Playing this one in the upper 70s as opposed to the upper 80s would best suit PC. Ultimately though I feel Xavier bounces back after their loss against Creighton, Xavier 80 PC 76.