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Providence hosts Arkansas in NIT opener Tuesday night

The Friars are back in the NIT for the first time since 2013.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Florida vs Arkansas Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

After making a school-record five straight NCAA Tournaments, the Providence Friars (18-15) were left out of the Big Dance this season, leaving them in the NIT for the first time since 2013. Just like 2013, the Friars are a #4 seed in this year’s tournament, as well. This year marks Providence’s 20th NIT appearance, fourth-most of any team in the nation.

They’ll face off with the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks (17-15) Tuesday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.


HOW TO WATCH OR STREAM

Time: 9 p.m. ET, Tuesday March 19

TV: ESPN2

Stream: WatchESPN


Preview

Immediately upon this game being announced, the prospect of an Alpha Diallo vs. Daniel Gafford matchup intrigued me. Gafford, the 6’11 First Team All-SEC center, led the Razorbacks in scoring (16.9 PPG) and rebounding (8.7 RPG) this season, and was one of just two SEC players to finish in the top five in the conference in both categories.

That all changed Monday afternoon, when Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson announced Gafford would be sitting out the NIT to prepare for the NBA Draft, where he is projected to be a lottery pick.

Naturally, this swings things in Providence’s favor. Diallo would have likely had his hands full on both sides of the ball with Gafford in the lineup, but now the Big East’s second-leading rebounder will likely be able to take the ball inside on offensive and command the glass on defense. Providence’s second-leading scorer Nate Watson will also likely benefit from Gafford’s absence.

One thing that could keep this game close for Arkansas, though? Their three guard tandem of Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones, and Jalen Harris combine for 35.3 points per game. However, they’re usually used as a supplement to Gafford, but both Jones and Joe have 30+ point games this season.

These teams are very evenly matched, and we’ve seen Providence’s offense go through some cold spells this season, but it’s tough to see the Friars losing this game with Gafford out for the Razorbacks. If Providence wins, they will face the winner of the Indiana/St. Francis game.