Time and Date: Saturday, February 13 @ 8:00 pm ET
Records: Providence (10-10, 6-8 BIG EAST) | DePaul (3-8, 1-8 BIG EAST)
Rankings: Providence (#74 KenPom) | DePaul(#118 KenPom)
TV Channel: FS1
Watch Online: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Providence -1.5
Providence and DePaul meet Saturday night in Chicago, their first meeting since the Friars pulled out the victory in a double-overtime thriller on December 27th.
Thanks to a late A.J. Reeves 3-pointer, Providence forced overtime. His steal late in the first extra frame forced a second one, and five minutes later PC walked away with a tough home win.
These two have become familiar with close contests. The last time they met at Wintrust Arena, it took Nate Watson hit his second of two free throws after missing with the first just 0.1 seconds left to clinch a one-point victory for the Friars.
Of course, while two of their last three meetings have come down to the wire, the third was hardly interesting. Providence dominated for forty minutes at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center last season, taking the regular season finale 93-55.
How relevant are these past meetings? In all likelihood, not very. Both teams have changed in the past five weeks.
For the Blue Demons, another season of Dave Leitao has led to more disappointment. After opening the season with back-to-back 90-point performances, DePaul has scored more than 70 just once. That game came against Valparaiso, and the second of the aforementioned 90-point games came in the double-OT loss at Providence. DePaul scored 74 points in regulation. That’s the most they’ve scored against any Big East opponent this season.
The primary cause for the offensive slow-down can be found in the shooting totals. The Blue Demons got off to a blazing start, shooting 20-44 from deep in their first two contests. Since then? A paltry 27.9% from beyond the arc. DePaul currently owns the worst field goal and 3-point shooting percentages in the Big East.
While transfer Javon Freeman-Liberty has played well, leading the team with 14.0 points per game, Charlie Moore’s scoring has dipped from last season. Sophomore Romeo Weems has not taken the leap many expected he could make this season, too. Put it all together and you get a team that plays solid defense, but one that is not scoring near the pace they did the first time these teams met.
At the other end of the floor, Providence has been disappointing since playing DePaul. The Friars are 4-7 over that stretch. Jared Bynum injured his groin on January 2nd and has not played since, much to the detriment of the offense. Meanwhile, the trio of Noah Horchler, Greg Gantt, and Jimmy Nichols at forward has not panned out. The Friars’ post defense and rebounding has been noticeably lacking. With Nichols likely out for the season now, that puts more of a burden on the other two to step up.
Alyn Breed has been one of the unexpected bright spots over that stretch. The freshman played just six minutes in Providence and DePaul’s initial meeting. Since Bynum’s injury, however, Breed has averaged nearly 8 points per contest. That includes 15 points in the upset win at Creighton and a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds at Villanova.
Ed Cooley is famous for his late-season runs. In two of the last four seasons, the Friars rattled off six straight wins to end the regular season. After dropping three in a row to Georgetown, Seton Hall, and St. John’s, Providence is once again in do-or-die mode.
With six games left on the schedule, the Friars showed signs of life last time out against UConn. A much-improved performance on defense and on the boards, led by Horchler with 10 rebounds, turned into an 11-point victory over the Huskies. With Jared Bynum inching closer to a return and Horchler’s recent emergence as a scorer, could this be a sign of things to come? That the Friars are finally turning things around and putting it together late in the season? Or is this just an isolated incident in an inconsistent and frustrating season?
Dave Leitao’s path to victory is simple. They must continue the defensive performances that held Marquette, Creighton, and Butler under 70 points while attacking the Friars in the paint. Nearly 60 percent of DePaul’s points this season have come from 2-pointers, which is where Providence is weakest on defense.
For Ed Cooley, the game plan is about building on the last game. The Friars put together a complete performance and got back to basics, focusing on defense and rebounding. Cooley loves to start with the defense and let the offense follow. Providence needs to rebound and stifle an offense that has struggled since their first meeting.
Beating DePaul is a necessity for Providence to make a late-season charge. If the PC team that showed up against UConn takes the floor Saturday night, then the Friars will be in good shape. But this DePaul team is plucky and not quick to surrender, as Providence knows well. The Blue Demons will make the Friars earn a win.