The first match-up was another one of the many classics between PC and Xavier. Xavier came out on top at home 85-83 in overtime when a Jared Bynum three ball rimmed in and out. The stakes are high for this rematch at the AMP, as the winner of this one puts themselves in the driver’s seat for the 2 seed in the Big East Tournament. Additionally, a win here helps bolster the NCAA resume for both teams.
We break down what we expect to see during the game and the keys to a Friar victory.
Recap of Game 1 – Preview and Results
Don’t Start Slow – This Xavier offense is potent and in the first game they really flexed their muscles in the first half. Xavier at one point in the first game was on pace to exceed 120 points in regulation.
The slow start by Providence ultimately was a moot point as PC clawed back into the game, but with the game at home, you want to keep the crowd engaged and not exert too much energy in a comeback effort. Slow starts have doomed the Friars this year, and it would be great to start fast against the Musketeers. They can do that by designing quality looks for Hopkins and Croswell at the rim.
Guard the Three Ball – Xavier shot 35% from 3 in the first match-up; however, Nunge was able to make 3 of the total 8 made. Providence fell asleep too often on the big man out in the perimeter, and he made them pay. As a team, they shoot 40% from 3, which is ridiculous. PC needs to stay defensively engaged on the perimeter, regardless of who is out there.
PC Defense in Transition & Off Rebounds Needs to Improve – The last two games I’ve noticed a negative trend with the Friars, and it is that they often lose track of their man they are guarding in transition and in “scrums” when trying to grab a board. Connecticut absolutely buried them with three balls in these scenarios, and Georgetown hung around the game longer than they should have for the very same reason. Given the stat above on 3 point makes, it’s imperative that Providence find their man in transition and not allow wide open looks from deep if X is going to grab any offensive boards.
Status of Freemantle – Zack Freemantle has been injured and out for about a month. When the injury initially transpired, I heard about a month recovery time, which has him trending for a return in this match-up. I’m not “in the know” with Xavier hoops, but I haven’t heard anything about him playing in this one. We should learn more in the coming days.
In his absence, Jerome Hunter has been magnificent. In the first match-up, Hunter had 9 points and 8 rebounds, but his impact was really felt on the defensive end. Hunter did a remarkable job on Hopkins, as Bryce had 10 points on 3-14 shooting. Hopkins needs to embrace the physicality of his game and take it into the chest of Hunter. This game will likely be another very physical one, and the Friars need to come ready to play that style.
Tell the Bigs to Run in Transition – Croswell is probably in the best shape of his life. In a few games I’ve watched Xavier, Nunge seems to tire quickly. If I’m Cooley, I’m telling Ed and Cliff Moore to get out and run and have Nunge exert extra energy getting back. That will also help them get better looks offensively, as Nunge has the size on them in the post.
BOC the Nerd: Cooley Calling Out Screen in Post – Xavier does a great job of setting an initial high ball screen for the ball handler. The ball handler will then drive to the hoop, and the big man in the post will subsequently seal his defender, creating a clear path to the hoop for the ball handler. It’s a brilliant X&O strategy.
With that said, there were too many times in the first game when it wasn’t executed properly and essentially Hunter or Nunge were illegally clearing out their defender with an armbar or hooking them. Cooley needs to let the refs know about this early and often. If it gets called once or twice, it puts foul pressure on their bigs. More importantly, Xavier cannot rely on that set, which probably led to double digit points in the first match-up.
In reality, this won’t be called, and I will just be mad, but I want to point it out because they do it so frequently.
BOC: I’m not going to overanalyze this one. PC just doesn’t lose at home. Hopkins has a bounce-back after his first performance against Xavier and dud against Georgetown. Friars 82, Xavier 78.