As the calendar turned from 2019 to 2020, the Providence Friars’ once-promising season seemed over before the Big East season even began.
Picked to finish 4th in the Big East, the Friars entered their New Year’s Eve battle with the Georgetown Hoyas at just 7-6. The only win of any note was over a mediocre Texas team while losses came to the likes of (currently 6-15) the Northwestern Wildcats, Penn Quakers, Long Beach State 49ers, and the College of Charleston Cougars. They were off the Tournament radar completely.
Providence, with a little help from the best top-to-bottom conference in the country, has worked its way back onto the bubble. Winning six of their first ten Big East games, the Friars’ four Q1 wins are the most (along with the DePaul Blue Demons) of any team with a sub-35 NET ranking. The record is not great, but there is meat on the bone.
Meanwhile, the Xavier Musketeers have turned around a horrendous start to conference play with consecutive wins. In danger of falling off of the bubble, the Musketeers’ upset of the Seton Hall Pirates put Xavier right back in the picture at 15-8 (4-6).
Unlike Providence’s polarized resume, Xavier’s strength is a lack of bad losses with one Q2 loss and no losses in the bottom two quadrants. A .500 record in conference play would likely give the Musketeers an at-large big, playing better on the Cintas Center court (2-3 at home in conference play) is a must.
Keys to the Game
- Can Xavier hang on to the ball? The Musketeers have struggled to avoid turnovers all season averaging nearly 14 per game. Meanwhile, Providence ranks top-20 in steals and forces opponents into more than 15 steals per game. Even in the win over Seton Hall, Xavier coughed up the ball 18 times (versus only six turnovers for the Pirates). The Friars will try to take advantage of the Musketeers’ recent point guard-less line-up.
- Who wins the rebounding battle? Both teams rank in the top-50 in offensive rebounding percentage as the Musketeers have collected 31.2% of their own missed shots while the Friars have grabbed 33.5% of theirs. Conversely, both teams have sub-100 defensive rebounding rates as Xavier grabs 75.1% of their opponents’ misses while Providence only grabs 73.9%. Over the last two games, Xavier’s dominated the glass by out-rebounding Seton Hall and DePaul by a combined 101-58, while Tyrique Jones grabbed 18 boards in both of those wins. While the Friars have the size to handle Jones between 6’9” Kalif Young, 6’10” Nate Watson, and 6’7” leading-rebounder Alpha Diallo, Xavier’s overcome many weaknesses lately by dominating the glass.
- Can one team get hot? Neither of these teams shoots well, both hover around 30% shooting from deep. That being said, Providence’s David Duke has overcome one of the most unfortunate names ever to become a knock-down 46% three-point shooter while the emergence of freshman Kyky Tandy has seemingly opened up the floor for everyone else. Since Big East play began, Tandy has hit 40% of his threes while Paul Scruggs (43% in BE play) and Naji Marshall (35% in BE play) have each gotten significantly better with Tandy’s emergence. Conversely, Providence took down Creighton by holding the sharpshooting Blue Jays to just 6-27 on shots from deep.
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Place: Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio
Series History: Xavier leads 9-7 (7-5 since Xavier joined Big East)
Line: Xavier -4
Despite what the statheads and sabermetricians will tell you, momentum is real. Sometimes teams get hot and play over their heads for few games. But what happens when both teams are hot? The last two games have been nearly flawless for both teams, beating top-15 teams on the road before a dominating road win for Xavier and a blowout over a ranked team for Providence. Both have momentum.
One train of thought is to figure that this game will be close and to take the points. After all, Xavier has struggled to defend the Cintas Center’s court all season. However, this is also the first time that the Musketeers have taken their home court with momentum behind them. The hunch here is that Xavier plays well for a fired-up crowd and picks up a tough win.
Xavier 67, Providence 60