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Xavier and Providence square off in Saturday clash

The Musketeers have a big road test against the tough Friars

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Where: Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, RI

Time: Noon ET

TV: FOX (Justin Kutcher, Donny Marshall)

Line: Xavier (-1.5)

Last Year: Xavier won at home 82-56, and lost at Providence 75-63.

Xavier is 2-0 in the Big East fresh off a home victory against a Butler team that previously took down the No. 1 ranked Villanova Wildcats in emphatic fashion. Providence is 1-2 in the Big East and has lost two straight games. It is coming off a thrilling overtime loss in a game when Markus Howard dropped 52 points.

This game features many players who are familiar playing against each other. The Friars leading scorer, Rodney Bullock, scored 16 points against the Musketeers in Providence’s win last season. This year, he averages 16.9 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game. Another top scorer that played well against Xavier last year, is another senior in Kyron Cartwright. He dropped 17 points when the Musketeers visited the Dunk last year and this season, he ranks third in scoring for the Friars with 10.3 ppg and 6.1 assists per game.

Another player to watch for Providence is Alpha Diallo. The sophomore guard missed a few games due to injury but is now back in the starting lineup. In the team’s latest loss to Marquette, he had 16 points and collected 8 rebounds. He is the Friars second-leading scorer this season, averaging 11.2 ppg and 5.9 rpg.

From a numbers standpoint, this game looks winnable for the Musketeers because they outmatch Providence in almost every major category. Xavier is much more productive on offense than the Friars. Xavier averages 87 ppg in comparison to Providence’s 77 ppg. Xavier also has a slight rebounding advantage with 40 rebounds per game over the Friars’ 36 rebounds per game. Xavier has also been one of the most efficient offenses in the nation and in that regard, also outrank the Friars in that category. Xavier shoots 51 percent from the field while Providence shoots 46.7 percent from the floor.

What To Watch For

The Tre-JP Combo

Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are among the best frontcourt duos in the country and that showed in Xavier’s win against Butler on Tuesday night. Trevon led the way with 21 points and Macura was not too far behind with 20 points. When the tandem is on the top of their game, Xavier is a very tough team to beat. The two bring talent and experience that only a handful of teams in the nation have. While both are excellent marksmen from long range, they have both developed a drive-and-attack game, which has proven to make them even more dangerous on the offensive side of the ball.

Play of the bigs

Xavier’s big men have played pretty consistently all year long. The other great thing is that they all offer a different play style. Tyrique Jones, the starting 5, will bully opposing bigs inside with his brute strength whereas a guy like Sean O’Mara is more of a traditional face-away from the basket type forward who often posts up. Kerem Kanter is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch because he can dribble in space and has long-range capabilities. Xavier’s big men match up well against Providence’s young frontcourt with the senior experience of O’Mara and Kanter along with the starting experience of Jones.

Consistently Inconsistent?

This sounds oxymoronic but might make more sense with an explanation. The Musketeers currently stand at 15-1 and with a win against Providence, have a pretty good shot at attaining their highest ranking in program history. That being said, the wins that Xavier has collected this season have come in a variety of ways. There have been the comeback wins against teams like ETSU and DePaul, the sure-fire victories against Morehead State, Rider and Hampton. Then, there has been the nail-biters like the games against Northern Iowa, Marquette and most recently, against Butler. If anything, this shows that Xavier has the mental toughness to go down and surge back to win. All of these types of games with the exception of maybe the decisive wins build character and can go a long way for a team that can run the gamut in March.

Xavier currently sits atop the Big East but as other years have shown in the past, the standings could be shaken up in a heartbeat. Any team in the conference should be comfortable feeling uncomfortable in that fact that every team has the chance to be competitive on any given day. Providence will pose a challenging matchup for the visiting Musketeers and Xavier can’t let its guard down if they want to win the game. The numbers speak for themselves but that’s not always the tale of the tape.

But for now, its Xavier vs. Providence as the Musketeers begin to get into the thick of things in the Big East.