Big East play starts today and 53% of you, according to a Twitter poll, are not happy with where Xavier stands. The choices there cite a lack of road wins and a lack of consistency as the reason, but those a really catch alls for what is going on with this team this season. This team, by the way, is 10-2, ranked 17th in the AP poll, and 19th in the KenPom. They are, for a team that only 47% of fans are happy with, very, very good.
That’s a good thing, because the Big East isn’t a forgiving place for bad teams. By most measures the third best conference in the nation, it features the defending champions, the hottest team in the country, and seven teams in KenPom’s top 50. That Xavier’s first conference opponent, Providence, is eighth in the league by KenPom ranking (61st) goes a long way to explaining how fearsome the conference really is. ESPN can crow about the old Big East all it would like, but Xavier is about to walk into the teeth of just about the toughest competition that college basketball has to offer.
Providence has three losses this year. Two of them are good, Ohio State and Virginia, and the most recent one (Boston College) is not. When Providence loses it’s their offense that lets them down. The Friars are 122nd in the nation in offensive efficiency. They don’t get to the line much, they don’t grab their own misses, and they turn the ball over a bit too much to overcome their rather mediocre shooting from everywhere except behind the arc. That 37.6% is about the only thing about their offense that isn’t just middle of the pack at best.
Defensively is an entirely different story. Providence is 27th in the nation in defense, they attack the ball relentlessly, forcing turnovers on 22.9% of opponent’s possessions, they allow only 30% shooting from behind the arc, and they very rarely send their opponent to the line. About their only weakness is that they can be had inside and they to allow offensive rebounds. Outside of Baylor, this is the best defense Xavier has seen all year.
|Kyron Cartwright||Point Guard||Edmond Sumner|
|5'11", 185||Measurements||6'6", 183|
|In contrast to Kris Dunn a year ago, Cartwright gets it done mostly through his excellent ball distribution. Against top 50 opposition he has 23 assists and 5 turnovers this year, but has also been bitten by the turnover bug from time to time, racking up 7 against Grambling State. Cartwright is not afraid to shoot, but prefers to initiate. He will spend about 75% of the game on the ball for the Friars.|
|Isaiah Jackson||Shooting Guard||JP Macura|
|6'6", 212||Measurements||6'5", 203|
|Jackson took over the starting spot from Ryan Fazekas for… reasons. Jackson sports and 89.1 efficiency rating, which drops to 73.6 versus top 100 opposition. All that to say, offense is not his calling card. He is also yet to block a shot or garner a steal against top 100 competition, so if he is a great defender, he does it in ways that don't show on the stat sheet. He gets a decent amount of defensive rebounds, but it is hard to see what he is bringing to the party for Providence.|
|Jalen Lindsey||Small Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'7", 220||Measurements||6'6", 200|
|Lindsey came into this season as a catch and shoot guy and… actually he is still kind of that. The new aspect that he added to his game is that he is now really good at shooting, as opposed to being pretty bad at it like before. He sports an efficiency rating of 132, due mostly to his 44% mark from three. He only has shot 36% percent against the top 100 and gets to the line a lot less frequently, but he is still extremely dangerous when he is hot.|
|Emmit Holt||Power Forward||Malcolm Bernard|
|Holt assumes the mantle of Big East player that will be known to announcers as "Indiana transfer" from our very own Remy Abell, and much like Remy, he is making a name for himself away from the Hoosier State. Holt is a bit undersized for a power forward, but shoot the three well enough to warrant attention, and uses his strength to play to contact below the rim. He gets to the line and shoots free throws well, gets his fair share of defensive boards, and is a good shot blocker. He is option #2 for the Friars on offense.|
|Rodney Bullock||Center||RaShid Gaston|
|6'8", 225||Measurements||6'9", 239|
|Holt is option #2 because this guy is option #1. After being the hero against USC in the NCAA tournament last year, he has become the go-to scorer for Providence this year. He has shot 22-66 from three, showing that he is not a typical back to the basket banger, but is still shooting 53% inside the arc as well. He slumped recently with back to back 8 point efforts, but was back to 23 in the loss to Boston College.|
Providence gets neither a lot of minutes nor a lot of production from their bench. Ryan Fazekas is the guy to note here as he shoots 41% from three, which is where he takes a majority of his shots. 6’9” freshman Kalif Young gets to the offensive glass well, but does not shoot particularly well and is very turnover prone. Alpha Diallo is a 6’7” wing who is still finding his game on offense. He is, however, long and athletic enough to get into passing lanes and averages a steal per game. Last up is freshman guard Maleik White who really struggles with ball security in his limited appearances.
- What is going with Myles Davis? First off, the “news” that Myles isn’t playing today isn’t really news. If he was suspended for a semester, that wouldn’t end until sometime around when class started back up. That’s January 9th. Myles’ tweet that sometimes things don’t go how you wanted and subsequent disappearance from Twitter aren’t making anyone feel any better, though.
- Can Xavier capitalize on Providence’s defensive gaps? For Xavier to win this game they are going to have to hammer the offensive glass and make hay inside. Xavier’s not been great at making hay anywhere this year and they will have to score in the paint unless they continue their recent shooting tear from deep. They should be able to grab their own misses, but they absolutely have to if the shots from deep aren’t going.
- Is Kaiser Gates ready to play? Yes, Kaiser knocked down four threes in Xavier’s last game, but that was against Eastern Washington, not Providence. Even against the Eagles, Kasier only took one two point field goal. He’s going to have to start exerting himself like a 6-8, 220 pound swing man, and not like a gigantic spot up shooter.
- Make some threes: This is going to keep being a key until Xavier demonstrates that they can do it with any sort of consistency. They haven’t yet, and the Friars are better than most at preventing it.
- One shot possessions: Providence doesn’t get on the glass very well or shoot terribly well. If Xavier can keep them to one and done, they’ll be well on their way to a win. Teams that struggle to shoot don’t need more encouragement by getting second bites at the apple (or cherry, depending on how you prefer your metaphor).
- Get out to the lead: Quick, how many minutes has Providence led in their three losses this year? If you guessed less than 30 and all of those in the same game, you’d be right. In all of their wins, Providence has led at the half and in all of them but two, they’ve led at the 10 minute mark in the first half. Jumping on them early would put them in a position they aren’t used to.