After going 5-4 through the first half of their double round robin schedule, Xavier begins its series of rematches Saturday afternoon as they host Providence at the Cintas Center. The Friars defeated the Musketeers 81-72 on January 25th, the first loss of Xavier’s current three-game losing streak. In order to avenge the loss in this contest, the home team needs to improve three-point defense while keeping the Friars off the free throw line.
Providence enters the contest as the best free throw shooting team in the country; converting on a stout 78.6% of their attempts. The Friars are just average at drawing fouls, with a 40% FTA/FGA ratio that rates 184th nationally. In the first meeting, Providence surpassed that ratio, attempting 30 Free throws against 59 field goal attempts. For Xavier to win Saturday, containing damage from the charity stripe will be vital. The Friars made more free throws (21) than Xavier attempted (16) in the first meeting.
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The biggest match-up problem that Providence creates is in versatile 6-6 forward LaDontae Henton. The former University of Dayton commit has the strength to take Justin Martin in the post and the quickness to drive past Isaiah Philmore. Henton torched the Musketeer defense for 23 points in the first meeting, scoring from all over the floor – five 2-pointers, three 3-pointers, and four free throws. Surrendering contested jumpers to Henton is the best game plan, and Isaiah Philmore is the best suited Musketeer to prevent Henton from using his strength inside.
A poor perimeter shooting team, Providence made 8-of-20 three-point attempts in the first match-up. Xavier has been struggling mightily in three-point defense this season; allowing opponents to shoot a league worst 41.8% in conference tilts. The opposition is scoring 35.2% of their points against Xavier from behind the arc, well above the national average of 26.2%. Musketeer coach Chris Mack has indicated communication has been the issue for Xavier’s perimeter defense, especially in transition. The Musketeer defense is due for a contest in which they hold the opposition to under 25% three-point shooting, something they achieved five times in the non-conference slate, but not once in Big East play.
Offensively, Xavier needs point guard Dee Davis to get back on track. The Junior has gone through a rough patch during Xavier’s losing streak, committing more turnovers (8) than points scored (7) while shooting 3-18 from the field (16.7%) in losses to Providence, Seton Hall, and Villanova. Davis doesn’t have to be a go-to scorer for Xavier to be successful; they have better scoring options at every other position in their starting line-up.
He does, however, have to keep opposing defenses honest. Providence will likely defend Davis with Bryce Cotton, who has played in the Friar’s last 330 minutes, and a whopping 99.4% of minutes in their last 15 games. If Davis is not an offensive threat in the game, Cotton can conserve energy on the defensive end, something he was able to do in the last meeting, scoring a game-high 25 points. Xavier has lost six of the 10 games in which Davis has recorded an offensive rating of less than 100 on Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. Dee does not have to be a high usage player for Xavier to succeed; he just cannot be as bad as he has been during the losing streak.
Over the years, Xavier has had tremendous success at their on-campus arena, including a record of 14-1 this season. Protecting the home court will be a more difficult task in the second round of Xavier’s conference schedule, as the top three eams in the Big East visit the Cintas Center in the second half of their conference schedule, beginning with today’s contest against 6-4 Providence. A 10-8 conference record should be good enough to get Xavier an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. A home loss today will make that task extremely difficult to achieve that goal.