Back in the days of running roughshod through the A10, Xavier didn't have to worry much about running into other teams ranked in the top 25 as February dragged on. In the last year before the great shake up began, Xavier played George Washington (166th), Rhode Island (209th), Temple (43rd), Dayton (71st), UMass (70th), Richmond (117th), and Saint Louis (17th). The conference was so bad that the Musketeers had taken to scheduling Memphis in a non-conference contest late in the season for a potential boost. Now, Xavier will meet no team ranked lower than 62nd in the KenPom after that early month tilt against Marquette. With that benefit though, comes the possibility of losing games if things don't go right.
1. Remy was on fire, but the zone was built for Providence
That's not a metaphor, this zone was literally built to play against Providence last year. In the first meeting this year the Friars were obliging hosts and went a wretched 7-34 from behind the arc. Expect to see Coach Mack zone up early and often until someone proves they can hit from deep. Unfortunately, that may mean limiting the minutes of Remy Abell, who went for 12/1/1 on 5-8 from the floor against Butler. Remy provided the spark that the team needed, but the zone works wonders against the Friars. It's a conundrum the coaching staff will have to solve.
2. How to contain Ben Bentil?
Kris Dunn takes all the headlines, all the time, but Bentil is Providence's best player. In the last game against Xavier he went for 25/6/1 on 8-18 from the floor. Bentil hasn't gotten worse since then and dropped 42/12/2 in a shocking 48 minutes played against Marquette. Xavier can counter with depth, but simply slapping him up won't work. The big man is 23 of his last 27 from the line. That rules out Jalen Reynolds, who officials may start insisting begins the game with a foul, and James Farr can't stay with Bentil if he flares outside. However, zoning up may leave Bentil unaccounted for on the offensive glass.
3. Is it time to start JP?
Macura has been Xavier's best weapon offensively in conference play, but he's still behind several other players in minutes. Frequently employing the zone gives Macura more playing time, but it also decreases the time that Remy Abell plays, and he may be Xavier's best answer to Kris Dunn. Would going to JP early be a tacit admission that Xavier isn't inclined to play man for an entire game, or would it be the best way to maximize resources against a fellow top 25 opponent?