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Xavier v. Providence: preview, matchups, keys to the game

Last time these two met, it was a top 10 matchup. Now it's a top 25 matchup as Xavier has held serve but Providence is struggling to find purchase entering the home stretch.

It was tough sledding for Ed last time out, but Xavier came away with the win.
It was tough sledding for Ed last time out, but Xavier came away with the win.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The top of the Big East has sorted itself out nicely this year, with Xavier and Villanova putting a gap between themselves and the rest of the league (and Nova having put a sizeable space between themselves and Xavier). An optimist sees Xavier as having won 6 of their last 7 and cruising towards a protected seed in the NCAA tournament. A pessimist sees Xavier coming off a split in the last week and having played one good game in the last two weeks. Both approaches can be supported with the current data.

The middle of the Big East is the exact opposite of the top, with clarity difficult to come by. Just one game separates Creighton in 3rd from Butler in 7th, and you would have had trouble getting takers for either of those teams in those positions back in November. Between those two, Seton Hall, Providence, and Georgetown all entered the week with 7 wins and varying degrees of bubble-related desperation. The next three weeks of games will sort the postseason fortunes of all five of the teams currently sitting mid-table, but it's clear for all of them that the margin for error from this point forward is extremely thin. It is from this morass that Providence is hoping to emerge, starting with their visit to Cintas.

Team fingerprint:

Providence is really thin and really young, ranking below 300th in KenPom's assessments of bench depth and experience. Their offensive execution has been hit and miss. On the one hand, they don't turn the ball over too much, hit the offensive glass well, and lead the league in free throw rate. On the other hand, they're ninth in the ten-team Big East in EFG%, two-point shooting percentage, and three-point shooting percentage. They do shoot well from the line, which is a saving grace for an offense whose good process doesn't seem to result in solid production.

Defensively, Providence plays a lot of extended zone and does the things that you'd expect a zone team to do. They force turnovers well - largely thanks to Kris Dunn having license to roam the passing lanes at the top - and smother the three-point arc. They're also judicious in not putting opponents on the line. The flip side to that is that they're porous inside the arc and dead last in the league in DReb%. The team that cracks Providence's defensive shell will more likely than not feast once they're inside.

Starters:

Starting matchups
Kris Dunn Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Junior Class Freshman
6'4", 220 Measurements 6'6", 183
17.1/5.9/6.6 Game Line 10.9/3.3/3.3
.442/.366/.671 Shooting Line .409/.333/.704
The dirty secret on Kris Dunn is that he really excels in transition and in the passing lanes on defense. The upshot of that is that he is only an average finisher in the half court, and his shooting percentage on two-point jumpers is under 30%. He's a solid distributer, but he turns the ball over a lot and is a volume scorer. For all the hype, Dunn can be defended, as his ORtg of 98.6 in conference play attests.
Kyron Cartwright Shooting Guard Myles Davis
Sophomore Class Junior
6'0", 185 Measurements 6'2", 188
5.0/2.0/3.8 Game Line 10.6/3.3/3.6
.356/.400/.625 Shooting Line .401/.380/.866
Cartwright is a solid distributor who will work a fairly ineffective pull-up game inside the arc. He's a catch and shoot guy from deep and, while he doesn't shoot them often, he'll connect from deep at a healthy clip. He's an aggressive defender that can occasionally be prone to foul trouble.
Junior Lomomba Small Forward JP Macura
Junior Class Sophomore
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'5", 203
6.2/2.6/2.1 Game Line 9.4/2.8/2.0
.421/.333/.655 Shooting Line .479/.351/.813
With the zone having been prominent against Providence last time out, I'm going to pencil JP into the lineup here. If he doesn't start, rest assured that he'll see good minutes. Lomomba won't have his number called that much on offense, but he's a solid finisher and a defender who more or less stays out of foul trouble.
Rodney Bullock Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'8", 225 Measurements 6'6", 215
12.4/7.1/1.0 Game Line 15.0/6.6/2.4
.457/.338/.720 Shooting Line .416/.384/.796
People who describe Providence as Dunn and Bentil plus three are overlooking the value of Rodney Bullock. A good defensive rebounder and rim protector, Bullock has stepped up his shooting in conference play. He's a good finisher who should avoid the mid-range at all costs, but he's shooting 38% from deep against the Big East. He dropped 23 on Georgetown his last time out.
Ben Bentil Center Jalen Reynolds
Sophomore Class Junior
6'9", 235 Measurements 6'10", 238
20.4/7.8/0.9 Game Line 9.7/6.6/0.8
.466/.309/.821 Shooting Line .508/.333/.622
Bentil carries a massive workload. He plays nearly 90% of the team's minutes, hits the glass hard at both ends, and takes more shot attempts than anyone on the roster. He can score at all three levels and is a serviceable post defender. Anyone making a case for Dunn as conference POY needs to consider that Bentil may make Dunn the second-best player on his own team.

Reserves:

Jalen Lindsey is a 6'7" sophomore swing forward who has bounced in and out of the lineup. He is averaging 6.3/4.3/0.9 on .356/.262/.714 shooting on the year, including just 9-43 (20.9%) from deep in conference play. He did hit a couple of threes against Xavier earlier this year, so don't be stunned if he gets hot from deep again. The other bench player getting minutes is 6'8" freshman forward Ryan Fazekas. He has gotten 10 starts but more often comes off the bench. His 6/2.7/0.4 line on .382/.354/.813 shooting is uninspiring, but he's a comparatively scalding 11-43 (25.6%) from deep in Big East games.

Freshman guard Drew Edwards and freshman forward Quadree Smith will also get a handful of minutes here and there to no great effect.

Three keys:

-Run bodies at Bentil. Providence's center is a tough matchup one-on-one, but Xavier can overwhelm him with depth. The Muskies' commitment to the glass can give Bentil problems, and Xavier's perimeter defenders should feel comfortable digging to the post against the 292nd-best three point shooting team in the nation. X doesn't necessarily need a ton of points from the post, but letting Reynolds, Farr, and O'Mara get touches to keep Bentil honest will be a big key in this game.

-Make Dunn a scorer in the half court. Kris Dunn is really difficult to contain when he is allowed to get up through the gears, and there's no question that he does a good job of setting up teammates for good looks in Providence's offense. Where he struggles is making his own shot outside of a transition setting. If Xavier can keep Dunn from getting easy buckets on run outs and can make him find his own shot rather than letting him put the defense into rotation in the half court, they'll be well on their way to containing him.

-Work Ed off the ball. There aren't that many guards anywhere who are matchups for Sumner physically, but Dunn is one and Edmond shot 0-9/0-4/1-2 in the first matchup between these two teams. Xavier will be better served to have Myles Davis bring the ball up than to make Ed try to go directly at Dunn to initiate the possession every time down the floor. If Providence adjusts, Xavier can always shift Sumner back to the point. If not, I'm sure we'd all be happy with another 13/5/7 out of Myles, right?