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Providence and Xavier face off Wednesday night

Both teams are probably in the Big Dance but a win just about clinches it

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

Since it’s that time of the year, how about a nice blind profile comparison between two totally random college basketball teams?

Who could these teams possibly be?

All stats as of 3/3 Team A Team B
All stats as of 3/3 Team A Team B
NET 44 43
SOS 10 9
Kenpom 46 43
Kenpom AdjTempo 68.2 68.0
Points per game 70.4 70.7
Opp. PPG 66.3 66.9
Rebounds per game 38.1 39.4
Three Point % 32.5 31.6
Blocks per game 3.3 3.8
Steals per game 8.2 6.0
Turnovers per game 13.6 14.1

As one of the many bright college basketball fans perusing BECB, you probably have gathered that Xavier and Providence represent the mystery teams on the above chart. Despite taking wildly different paths to March, Xavier and Providence have wound up in roughly the same position.

Providence started off the season with early losses to Northwestern, Penn, Long Beach State, and Charleston. Even once the Friars got off to a hot start and won their first three Big East games, it was taken as more a cute story of a team making the best of a bad situation than a real run. Two months later, 133 of the 136 bracketologists logged on Bracketmatrix.com have Providence in the field of 68. While the 6-4 record in Q3-4 games is less than ideal, the 7-8 record in Q1 more than makes up for it.

Xavier has had a smoother if much more boring ride to late March. Outside of a win at Seton Hall, there aren’t many impressive wins on the Musketeers resume: Xavier has beaten the bad teams it faces while losing to the good ones. The result, in a conference like the Big East, is a team with a solid record supported by solid metrics. As such, Bracketmatrix has 135 of the 136 bracketologists with Xavier in the field. Xavier is only 3-9 in Q1 games but has no loss worse than a Q2 loss at Wake Forest.

Not that there’s much of a difference but Providence is Team A while Xavier is Team B.


What’s at stake?

The Big Dance hangs over everything this time of year and a win would likely secure either teams’ at-large bid. The loser would probably not be out, but a sliver of doubt would remain.

For the Big East Tournament, Providence has done enough to avoid playing Wednesday but could finish anywhere between the 2 seed and the 5 seed. Xavier could finish anywhere between the 4 seed and the 7 seed. Avoiding a Wednesday night game has got to be Travis Steele’s chief priority and this game is pivotal. While losing out would ensure the 7 seed, a loss to Providence but a win against Butler would put Xavier at 9-9. Further assuming Marquette and Butler beats St. John’s, Xavier would lose the tiebreaker with Butler and Marquette who would all finish 9-9. As such, Xavier likely needs to win both of its last two games to start its Big East Tournament on Thursday unless St. John’s wants to help the Musketeers out with an upset.

There are two quirkier things at stake Wednesday night. Providence has a chance to do something it hasn’t done since at least the 2013-14 season (the first year of the current Big East) by beating every Big East team in the regular season at least once. Xavier is the only team the Friars have yet to beat this season, as Xavier defeated Providence 64-58 on February 8.

Wednesday’s game would allow Xavier to continue the nation’s longest streak of finishing .500 or better in conference play. The last time Xavier finished with a losing conference record was 1981-82, when the Musketeers suffered through a 1-11 season in the gauntlet known as the Midwestern City Conference. Trust me, gas and stamps were really cheap back then.


Keys to the Game

  • Will Xavier hang onto the ball again? Providence steals the ball on 10.4% of its opponent’s possessions, the 17th-best rate in the nation. Despite Xavier struggling to hold onto the ball all year, the Musketeers won the turnover battle 13-8. Lately, Xavier’s survived some utterly horrendous ball-handling somehow winning games with 22 turnovers (77-74 @ St. John’s in a game where St. John’s turned it over four times) and 23 turnovers (66-63 @ Georgetown). Against a better team such as Providence, Xavier is going to have to handle with better care if it wants a win.
  • Is Xavier the best shooting team in the Big East? Certainly not, but the Musketeers beat DePaul and escaped against Georgetown largely on the back of their three-point shooting. The Musketeers shot 21-48 (43.8%) in those games, led by Naji Marshall scoring 43 points on 7-16 (43.8%) from deep. Marshall had one his worst games of the season the first time these two teams played, going just 1-6 from the field for a total of five points.
  • Can Pipkins keep it going? Providence enters tonight’s game on a four-game winning streak with Luwane Pipkins being the biggest reason for the Friar’s recent success. Pipkins has averaged 20 ppg over those four while gunning at a 77.8% (14-18) from deep. The grad transfer from UMass went just 2-10 in the first match-up against the Musketeers and Xavier is one of the best teams at shutting down the opponent’s long-range shooting (opponents shoot just 29.4% from deep against Xavier, the 21st-best clip in the nation). Whether Pipkins keeps his momentum going will likely determine whether Providence will as well.

Game Information

Time/Place: 6:30 p.m. from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center

TV: FS1

Line: Providence -4.5

O/U: 131.5


Prediction

As the chart at the very top of the story indicates, these are two incredibly even teams. With both coaches content to get into an ugly, rock-fight type of game, it should remain a close game throughout. Xavier might be able to shut down Providence’s three-point shooting, but Providence has survived much of this season not shooting well from deep. Meanwhile, the Friars might force the Musketeers into plenty of turnovers though Xavier has been finding ways to win without holding onto the ball lately.

The difference might come from the fact that one of these teams is playing like the best team in the best conference in college basketball and that team also happens to be playing at home. Combined with that fact that series seems destined to split, it makes sense that Providence is a solid favorite at home. While Providence is the pick here, the 4.5 points you have to lay might be a tad too much for two evenly, matched teams.

Providence 64, Xavier 60