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Game Preview: No. 9 Villanova vs. Providence

After an embarrassing loss to Creighton only two days ago, the Wildcats look to bounce back against a Friars team that is hungry for a marquee win that could put them once step closer to the Big Dance.

Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Villanova vs. Providence

The Teams: Villanova (22-3, 10-2 BIG EAST) 1 Game Losing Streak vs.

Providence (17-9, 7-6 BIG EAST) 1 Game Winning Streak

The Date: Wednesday, February 17

The Time: 7:00pm ET

The Location: Dunkin Donuts Center; Providence, RI.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: CBS Sports Radio 610 (Villanova) or WEEI 103.7 (Providence)

The Story of the Season (Villanova)

Another marquee matchup, another lopsided loss.

For the second time this season, the Villanova Wildcats went into their most hyped game of the season against the Creighton Bluejays. Once again BIG EAST supremacy was on the line and the winner would presumably have the inside track to the BIG EAST regular season title. And once again the Wildcats were thoroughly embarrassed in front of a national audience, this time by a final score of 101-80, their second time losing by 20+ this season.

The last time the Wildcats suffered a beating at the hands of the Bluejays, they responded by reeling off by 6 wins.  How many games do Jay Wright and co. have left in the regular season? Six. It'll be interesting to see if the Cats can bounce back after another trouncing with the same success.

If Villanova wants to win another game this season, the team defense is going to have to improve by leaps and bounds.  The defense against Creighton against was pretty darn putrid.  Now granted, I realize that Doug McDermott was playing like that one guy in NBA JAM who is completely engulfed in flames, but at some point in time, you as a team need to be able to make an adjustment. And no, surrounding McDermott with all 5 players on the court doesn't count (one of the most frightening picture I've ever seen by the way). The rotations must be much crisper because with providence, you're most likely going to have to commit to defenders to Bryce Cotton on most possessions, so the ability to quickly rotate without going full speed back to your original man is not going to get it done.

On offense, the key will be to get JayVaughn Pinkston going much faster on offense than on Sunday.  In the first half against Creighton, Pinkston was non-existent, recording zero first-half points while attempting only one field goal.  Pinkston is the big bruiser inside that sparks all of Villanova's offense inside, so it will be extremely crucial to get him involved early.

The Story of the Season (Providence)

Providence needs this win more than any other this season, plain and simple.

As of Monday, the Friars are of one Joe Lunardi's last four byes in this year's NCAA Tournament. They sit in the bracket as an 11 seed, matched up in the first round against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Providence currently has two wins over top-50 RPI teams, in Creighton and Xavier.  If you look at the Friar's remaining schedule, they play three games that they will be favored in and two that they won't.  Winning one of those two games where they would be underdogs would almost guarantee them a spot in the tourney, and right now, this home game against Nova seems a lot more feasible than a road test against Creighton. Therefore, it would go an exponentially long way to guaranteeing a birth in the NCAA tournament if they could pick up a victory over Villanova, whose current RPI is five.

If the Friars possibly want to keep up with a Villanova offense that averages 119.5 points per 100 possessions (ninth nationally), they need to improve their offensive efficiency ten-fold. Currently, Providence averages only 110.4 points per 100 possessions (66th nationally), and a lot of that can be attributed to a low field goal percentage.  The Friars shoot only 33.5% from 3-point range and 45.4% percent from 2-point range, which are both significantly below the NCAA average.  There's no way they'll be able to keep up unless they shoot lights out from the field.

Providence also needs to get to the free throw line as much as possible in order to have any chance of winning this one.  The team is tops in the NCAA, shooting a 78.8% clip from the charity stripe this season. The Friars currently get to the line almost 23 times a game, and even though that's a pretty decent average, they'll actually need to improve on that number today to beat the Wildcats.

The Players to Keep Your Eyes On:

Villanova: After a horrid game against Creighton, junior Darrun Hilliard must get back to producing at his usual level against Providence. It's always a give-in that leading scorer James Bell (16.1 ppg) is going to almost always hit his average, along with Pinkston, but Hilliard may the team's most important scorer.  He's been the Cats third scorer all season, averaging 13.7 ppg. Jay Wright needs Hilliard to reach the double-digit plateau, because when he doesn't, it's usually bad news for Nova.  In games this season in which Hilliard doesn't score at least 10 points, the squad is 2-2.

Providence: I've already mentioned his name twice this article, so that just tells you how important senior guard Bryce Cotton is to his team.  Cotton leads the Friars in both points (21.2 ppg) and assists (5.8 apg) so he's really the key to the offense, through getting himself involved along with his teammates.  He's also the team's best 3-point shooter, so if Providence falls down early, it may be squarely on the shoulders of Cotton to lead a furious comeback. One of the craziest aspects of Cotton is how little rest he gets in an average game. This season, he has averaged 39.5 mpg, so he's out there for all but about 30 seconds per game, which is absolutely unreal.  To put that in perspective, Creighton's Doug McDermott, who is probably going to win the Naismith Player of the Year Award this season, only averages about 32.6 mpg, almost 7 minutes less than Cotton.

The Prediction: This will be one of Creighton's toughest games of the entire season.  The team is still reeling after the beating that it took against Creighton, and the Cats only have a two-day turnaround before heading into a hostile environment.  Providence is also about as hungry for a marquee win as any team in the nation, which could secure the team's first NCAA Tournament since 2004.  With all that being said, I believe enough in Jay Wright as a coach, to where I think he'll have his team ready to play, as this is the exact same situation that the team was in just a couple of weeks ago.  It's not going to be pretty, or easy, but I think the Cats will do just enough to pull out a victory in this one.

Villanova 83 Providence 80