This past offseason, Providence was projected to finish seventh in the conference standings. Now, Ed Cooley is in the National Coach of the Year conversation and Providence has an opportunity to win its first ever Big East regular season title against a red hot Creighton squad in front of the notoriously loud home crowd at the ‘Dunk. It will be the first meeting this season between this two teams. This has been a special season for the Friars; some might say it’s ‘Divine Providence’. After winning a mere thirteen games all of last season, they achieved that same mark within their first fourteen tilts this year. It has been a historic season in Friartown.
Media metrics and the Friars mix together like oil and vinegar. Although Providence is ranked No. 11 in the latest AP Poll, they are 28th in the NET and 44th on kenpom.com. Interestingly, Providence is also atop the “luck” rating on kenpom.com. However, Ed Cooley & Co. have embraced being the “luckiest team in America”. Coach Cooley said, “I’ve been lucky my whole life… we get to call timeouts for an incredible living.” And he’s not wrong. Whether you believe they’re lucky, or simply a good team; the Providence Friars are 23-3. This is one of the most talented teams Cooley has ever coached. Al Durham is among the best at getting to the free throw line. Justin Minaya is one of the best on ball defenders in the country. Nate Watson is hitting his stride acting as a consistent threat down low. Noah Horcler is the best rebounder in the Big East, and Jared Bynum is the one of the most improved players in the nation. They’re a veteran ball club that knows how to win and finish off basketball games down the stretch.
Creighton hasn’t been too shabby either in terms of close games. Creighton is 6-1 in games decided by five or less points. Now, Providence is 10-1, but that isn’t the point. The point here is, even without Nembhard, these two teams will be grinding this game out, and if Creighton keeps it close, someone is going to break from their trend. For Creighton, it has to come from Ryan Hawkins, the ultimate X-factor for the Bluejays. CU is 17-3 with Hawkins in double-digits, making him one of the most integral pieces on this roster. But it isn’t just the native of Atlantic, Iowa who will need to get established. Creighton has to depend on Rati Andronikashvili and Trey Alexander as primary ball-handlers to help elevate the loss of Nembhard, for this game and for the rest of the season. Creighton needs a productive game on both ends of the floor from Ryan Kalkbrenner, a defensive stalwart and budding offensive player. The Bluejays also need to say their prayers and hope that Arthur Kaluma and Alex O’Connell are ready to go and healthy enough to battle in this fierce road environment.
This Providence team is super special; if they want to make history on Saturday night they must put pressure on Creighton’s backcourt and protect the paint. With Ryan Nembhard suffering a season-ending wrist injury against St. John’s, the Bluejays will be without their main floor general. Not to mention, Creighton currently is the hottest team in the Big East riding high on a 6-game win streak. In that span Bluejays’ Senior forward Ryan Hawkins is averaging 21 PPG and 9.6 RPG. However, rebounding will be the deciding factor in this one. Creighton ranks among the top 50 nationally in RPG. Win the glass, win the game.