On a macro level, both Providence and Villanova had very similar weeks last week. For Providence, they suffered a disappointing loss to St. John’s, and followed that up with a shocking-but-impressive victory at Marquette on Saturday afternoon. Villanova suffered a head-scratching loss at Marquette, one in which they blew a massive second half lead, and then erased a second half deficit to knock off Virginia at home on Sunday afternoon.
The difference, of course, is that what is to come of Villanova’s season is much more certain than that of Providence’s. The Wildcats, sitting pretty at 20-2 (7-2 Big East) are once again tournament bound, on the fast track to a top-two seed in March’s NCAA Tournament. The Friars come in on the outer fringe of the bubble at 14-9 (4-6 Big East), and in possession of a few bad losses and a lack of a true signature win to impress the selection committee.
Wednesday night provides a perfect chance for Providence to get back on the committee’s radar. While that’s easier said, than done, here’s what to look for when the Wildcats and Friars go at it tonight
How to Watch/Listen/Stream
TV: 7 PM, Fox Sports 1. Joe Davis and Steve Lavin have the call.
Radio: 103.7 WEEI in Providence, 610 Sports Radio in Philadelphia
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Villanova opens as a 9 point favorite, per OddsShark. They are 13-9 against the spread this season; Providence is 13-10.
Villanova holds a 60-38 advantage all time, including a 78-68 victory back on January 21. Last season, the Wildcats withstood a second half run from Providence to win 72-60 in Providence.
Why Villanova Wins
To keep it simple, Nova wins if they show up and play their game. The Wildcats, with all due respect to Providence, lay claim to three players that are likely the three best players playing on Wednesday: Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Kris Jenkins. Each represents a similar challenge; highly-skilled, sleek-shooting players who can score from anywhere on the court.
Last year in Providence, both Hart and Jenkins drove daggers into the Friars. Hart led the game with 13 rebounds, including several offensive boards as the Wildcats built a massive lead. As the Friars made a run, it was Jenkins who hit a huge three to keep the Friars, and the raucous Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd, at bay. Yes, the Friars look much different this year, but if the ‘Cats get decent offensive contributions from their big three, they should avoid the upset.
Defensively, the Wildcats need to stop the three point shot. Jalen Lindsey, Kyron Cartwright, Ryan Fazekas, Isaiah Jackson, and Rodney Bullock are all capable shooters from beyond the arc. If the Friars get hot, they’ll give Jay Wright and the rest of the Wildcats headaches throughout the game. If Villanova can run the undersized Friars off the three point line, they should be in good shape.
Why Providence Wins
Two reasons: home court advantage and great defense. First, the Friars have been great at home, losing just twice at the Dunk on the year. While both of those losses have come in conference play, Providence should take some solace in the fact that both of Villanova’s losses have come away from home as well. It should be a sellout crowd (or close to that) on Wednesday night, and the Friars can feed off the energy at home to stay within striking distance of the Wildcats.
Hyperbole aside, the Friars need their best defensive game of the season to win. Villanova can, and will, throw the kitchen sink at the Friars on offense, between their plethora of good shooters and a solid inside presence in Darryl Reynolds. Ed Cooley’s 2-3 zone has the ability to lock opponents down when all five click on defense; however, this game will be the biggest challenge for his defense since a loss to Creighton in early January.