On January 26, Xavier beat Providence 75-68 in the first ever matchup of Top 10 ranked teams at a sold out Dunkin Donuts Center.
The Musketeers launched a balanced attack, boasting five players in double figures, led by 15 points each from Jalen Reynolds and Trevon Blueitt. Xavier was able to overcome a raucous crowd and 19 turnovers to beat the Friars, mixing good defense and efficient offense to keep the Friars out of sync all night.
The game marked the beginning of a trying stretch for the Friars. Following the loss, Providence beat Georgetown, lost three straight games to Villanova, DePaul and Marquette, and beat Georgetown again on Saturday.
Xavier has continued to roll along, with its lone slip up coming on the road against a good Creighton team. At 22-3, ranked eighth in the country in the latest AP Poll, this has been one of the best seasons in Xavier program history, and the Musketeers are looking to finish strong to secure a low seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Friars, ranked No. 10 in the country the last time these two teams met, have played their way back onto the bubble but still remain in the Top 25. They would be in the tournament if the season were to end today, but a strong finish will give this team some much needed confidence heading into postseason play.
How to watch or listen
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: WEEI 103.7 FM (Providence) || 550 WKRC (Xavier)
Stream: Streaming will be available via Fox Sports Go
Line: Xavier enters this game as a 9 point favorite (via OddsShark)
Record ATS: Providence (13-12) || Xavier (15-10)
O/U: The O/U opened at 146.5
3 things to watch for
1. Xavier's Depth: In the first meeting between these two teams, Xavier had five players score in double figures and shot over 50 percent from the field, and that included an uncharacteristic scoreless effort on nine shots from second leading scorer Edmond Sumner. This team is deep and balanced, and it showed in the first meeting between these two teams. Early on it was James Farr hitting baseline jumpers and hurting the Friars on the offensive glass, and in the second half Jalen Reynolds had his way inside. Myles Davis and Trevon Blueitt hit big shots, and J.P. Macura provided great defense and a bomb of a three pointer with just over a minute remaining to give Xavier a six point lead.
Providence received 25 points from Bentil and 16 from Dunn, but also a combined 8-for-47 performance from the field from rest of the team. Xavier's depth wore on Dunn, as they flashed multiple looks and bodies at the Friar guard all night, and Bentil had his hands full with Reynolds and Farr. Xavier's offensive versatility, boasting six players averaging more than 9.4 points-per-game, will be a problem if Providence becomes fatigued.
2. Does anyone step up for Providence?: Xavier's strength has been Providence's weakness all year. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil very well might be the frontrunners for conference player of the year, yet Providence remains in the middle of the pack in BIG EAST play.
This is indicative of the struggles and inconsistency displayed by the other Friars and the team's lack of depth.
Sophomore forward Rodney Bullock averages 12.4 points-per-game and had 23 points and 10 rebounds in Providence's recent win against Georgetown. But aside from that performance and two games against Butler, where Bullock scored 25 and 16 points, he hasn't been the consistent third scoring option the Friars need.
Ryan Fazekas and Jalen Lindsey, pegged in the early season as the team's three-point threats, have both struggled from distance. Lindsey is shooting just 26.2 percent from beyond the arc and is clearly hurting for confidence, and Fazekas has struggled to find consistency. Guards Junior Lomomba and Kyron Cartwright combine for approximately 50 minutes per game and neither one has shown consistency on the offensive end.
Cartwright, who scored in double figures in three straight BIG EAST games earlier in the season, is 9-for-41 from the field over his last six games, and Lomomba has scored in double figures just twice during conference play. If the Friars want to make some noise in March, their supporting cast will need to step up and take some pressure off of Dunn and Bentil.
3. Who controls tempo?: In the first meeting between these two teams, Xavier was able to limit Providence to 31.6 percent field goal shooting (22-for-70). Following an early Providence run spurred by a few steals and transition baskets, the Musketeers settled into their 1-3-1 defense and forced the Friars to live on the perimeter.
On multiple occasions that night Xavier inserted J.P. Macura at the top of the 1-3-1, slowing down the Friars and keeping Kris Dunn out of the lane. If the Friars can't find a way to make some shots or enter the ball to the soft spots in the zone, it will be another long, poor shooting night for Ed Cooley's bunch.
And if Xavier is able to shoot the ball well like they did in the first matchup, they can limit Providence's chances to get out in transition. Providence forced 19 Xavier turnover and had 18 offensive rebounds in the first game but still wasn't able to climb all the way back into the game due to Xavier's offensive efficiency and great halfcourt defense.
If Xavier can control the tempo like they did in Providence, the Friars will have a difficult time staying in this one.