As the picks went by on Selection Sunday, my nerves slowly started to creep up. PC’s resume wasn’t bullet-proof by any means. With each selection, I thought a chance for a snub was becoming more and more likely. That is until I saw Kentucky as the 6 seed with an opening at 11. I knew, given the circumstances around Bryce Hopkins, that is where we’d be selected. Sure enough, Providence was selected as the 11 seed to take on the Wildcats at 7:10 PM on CBS.
We break down the Wildcats, who to watch on their team, and what the Friars need to do to advance to the Round of 32.
Wildcat Team and Statistics Overview – Comparative Analysis to Providence
|Points/Game||78.1 (36th Nationally)||75.1 (95th)|
|Points Allowed/Game||71.3 (215th)||68.0 (116th)|
|Bench Points/Game||15.9 (252nd)||18.2 (193rd)|
|Blocks/Game||4.6 (33rd)||3.8 (102nd)|
|Free Throws/Game||22.1 (25th)||19.5 (99th)|
|Rebounds/Game||38.3 (25th)||38.97 (16th)|
|Three Pointers Attempted/Game||18.9 (282nd)||18.0 (305th)|
Kentucky Team Leaders
Oscar Tshiebwe – 16.5 points, 13.1 rebounds
Antonio Reeves – 14.4 points, 40.7% from deep
Jacob Toppin – 12.5 points, 6.9 rebounds
Cason Wallace – 11.6 points, 4.2 assists
Sahvir Wheeler – 7.7 points, 5.6 assists
Keys to Game
Bryce needs to be aggressive, but not make the game about him – The storyline is going to be Hopkins leaving Kentucky due to a lack of playing time and exploding onto the scene in his sophomore year at Providence. While that will be the central story all week long, Hopkins needs to realize that it isn’t Bryce Hopkins versus Kentucky. It is the Providence Friars versus Kentucky.
Hopkins needs to be aggressive and attack relentlessly like we’ve seen him do all year; however, he can’t make this too personal and dominate the ball on offense. Hopkins at times can be a ball-stopper on the offensive end, slowing ball movement. Bryce needs to be the focal point on offense while also realizing he has the assets around him to get a win. Carter, Locke, and Croswell all have the ability to take this game over on the offensive end as well. A balanced scoring effort on the offensive end is the best recipe for an upset win.
The Big East Should Have Croswell Battle Tested – I’m not sure if there is a stronger, tougher player pound for pound in the Big East than Ed Croswell. He’s had to go against behemoths all year in Clingan, Soriano, Sanogo, Nunge, and Kalkbrenner, often giving up 3-6 inches in height in each match-up. He is strong as an ox, but faces an entirely new challenge in Mr. Rebound Oscar Tshiebwe. Oscar is an absolute bull in the low post and owns the glass. He is, however, only 6’8-6’9, so we won’t be facing the traditional Kentucky teams that have 7 footers that rim run and swat away shots with effortless ease. When stripping away the (rightly deserved) fanfare that Tshiebwe gets, this match-up is actually a good one for Croswell, and I expect him to play well.
Good Match-Up for Bynum – Sahvir Wheeler is another veteran point guard for Kentucky, but he is small in stature like Bynum. Again, these aren’t the Kentucky teams of old that have a John Wall, De’Aaron Fox, Eric Bledsoe, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander that are freaks of nature athletically and 6 foot 3 plus at the lead guard spots. Bynum should be able to hold his own defensively, unless they try to continue to switch Cason Wallace on him, and he should be able to get quality looks on the offensive end as well. It will be interesting to see how long Coach Cal plays Wheeler, if at all, as he is returning from injury.
Block Out Distractions– Providence has struggled of late losing four of their past five games. If that wasn’t bad enough, the rumors of Ed Cooley to Georgetown resurfacing to a fever pitch certainly don’t help things either. Even if they are just rumors, the players can almost certainly hear what’s going on, and it could easily be a distraction. The Friars are going to have to block out the noise and really prep for this Kentucky team. Ed isn’t doing this Friar team any favors by letting this linger, but we digress.
Cooley’s Best Offense Needs to Exploit Cats- For years covering these Friars the story has been that PC is an excellent defensive team but have trouble scoring the basketball. This year the script has flipped. Providence is ranked 16th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency, an anomaly for the Friars under Cooley. The Friars have a multitude of weapons on the offensive end that believe it or not Kentucky will have trouble matching up with. The Cats are 1-6 against top-25 KenPom offenses this season. We might just have to be ok with Providence giving up 75+ points if they can score in the 80s.
Injury Status of Wildcats – We’ve heard throughout the week about potential injuries to Wheeler, Wallace, and Frederick. We’ll continue to monitor this, but Kentucky may have a very short bench and overall short rotation heading into this one.
Providence Needs to Press – Given the short numbers on the Kentucky end and plethora of backcourt bodies that Providence has in Bynum, Breed, Floyd Jr, and Pierre, I’d expect PC to implement a full court/three quarter court press all game. You want a shorthanded team to exert maximum energy on both ends, and this press is the way to do it. It also allows Providence to score in transition, where they thrive, and lessens the ability for Kentucky to get into their half-court offensive sets.
Go Back to Your DNA, Attack the Rim – As you can see above in the team statistics, this Kentucky team doesn’t exactly protect the rim and scare you with shot blockers. Providence should have the size and physicality advantage in this one. There is no need to live on the perimeter and try and beat this Kentucky team with the deep ball.
Start Quick – In almost every single loss, Providence starts slow and digs itself deep into a hole. They cannot do that against Kentucky. If we see them fall behind 10+ early, we’ll know they’ll inevitably make a second half run, get close, but ultimately come up short. Providence needs to get a lead early and maintain that lead. Cooley should emphasize post touches and rim runs early and often. The nerves are going to be there for this entire Friar squad, but especially Hopkins. The best way to eliminate that is seeing the ball go in the hoop.
Crier: Its hard to ignore all the noise around the program this past week. At their best the Friars should be a team that should not only compete with Kentucky, but beat this year’s iteration. However, they haven’t played that way for some time, and for how they came out against UConn it’s hard to imagine them regaining that form for a full 40 minutes. Yet I’m going to take them in this game and in my bracket. Bryce Hopkins plays well but doesn’t force the issue, and the Friars offense gives Kentucky fits. Give me the Friars 81-75.
BOC: We’ll know very quickly which Providence team has come to play. I’m hopeful that the defensive effort in the last 10 minutes of the Connecticut game carries over to this game, but we’ve seen countless times that a last minute comeback doesn’t do much in subsequent games for the Friars.
I’m picking Providence because I think this Kentucky team’s composition matches up favorably for the Friars. Kentucky doesn’t have a dominant PG that can expose Bynum defensively, and they don’t have a rim protector that can eliminate Hopkins and Croswell at the rim and in the post like we’ve seen with Sanogo and Kalkbrenner. While Toppin is a gifted athlete, I don’t think he has the size and strength to shut down Hopkins. Carter poses a nightmare match-up for lead guard Antonio Reeves, and I don’t expect Reeves to do much in this one. Simply put, I think PC has a lot of match-ups they can exploit in this one, and I have trouble identifying where Kentucky can expose Providence.
If Providence stays true to its identity by limiting three point attempts, drawing fouls, and attacking the paint, I like their chances. They just CANNOT start slow. PC 78 – Kentucky 70. It wouldn’t shock me to see PC win this one running away, however.