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Xavier @ Providence: Preview, matchups, and keys to the game

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Xavier travels to Providence with a limping star and a season once again ready to be redefined.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Seton Hall
Great coach. Definitely doesn’t consistently fail to get the most of accumulated talent.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This one is a toss-up. Well, at least that’s what the numbers say. Xavier heads to the Dunkin Donuts center to face a Providence that very much needs to start accruing wins should it care to go dancing this year. Great Coach (tm) Ed Cooley and his charges are 5-8 in the conference and have managed to combine wins over Butler and Marquette with losses to Boston College and, somehow, DePaul. According to Eamonn Brennan the Friars need this win to get themselves seriously into the bubble discussion.

And then you have Xavier. The Musketeers have Trevon Bluiett as a game time decision and a supporting cast that most squads would be envious of. If they can get the things done that they need to, they can compete with anyone. Can they? That’s the question that this game will go a long way toward answering and it’s part of the reason that KenPom has it as a pick’em situation. Xavier on their game is still a cut above everyone in the Big East not called Villanova, but can X find that game consistently now?

Team fingerprint:

As is generally the case under Cooley, Providence is not a terribly good offensive team. The Friars are solid at 37.4% behind the arc, but they shoot barely 11% better than that from inside the arc. They do move the ball well, ranking 50th in the nation by assisting on 58.5% of their made field goals, but they don’t get on the glass well, or get to the line often. When their effective field percentage hits 49%, they tend to win, when it doesn’t, they don’t. In conference play it sits at 50.4%.

Defensively the Friars are a lot better. They currently rank as the 45th best team in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency and they really get after the ball well. The Friars can be hurt on the inside and on the offensive glass (Xavier shot 72% inside and grabbed 32% of their misses in the first meeting), but they do a good job at getting out to three point shooters and they are excellent at keeping opponents off the free throw line.

Players:

Starters:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Ed Cooley is beating the life out of his top players. Despite not facing the roster crunch of a team like the Musketeers, Cooley is somehow getting fewer minutes from his bench.

Kyron Cartwright is the starting point guard for the Friars and he’s a good one, getting his 10.9/3.3/6.7 on 41% from the floor with an assist rate of 42.7%. If Providence has a shooting guard, it’s Jalen Lindsey, who gets 9.9/4.2/0.7 mostly on a glittering 48% from behind the arc. That’s not a small sample size either, Lindsey, who stands 6-7, 220, has launched 117 threes this year, basically the same as JP Macura.

6-8 swing man Rodney Bullock uses the most of the Friars offense and uses it to the tune of 16.8/6.0/1.3 on 44% from the floor and 31% from behind the arc. He’ll shoot early and shoot often. Look for Malcolm Bernard to spend a long time getting acquainted with Bullock. Alpha Diallo is another 6-7 swing, but he doesn’t shoot much, or well, from deep. He gets 5.0/2.7/1.0 and starts but plays less than the first guy off the bench, who plays the same position. Don’t ask me why. Finally, Kalif Young is out there to round out the front five. He goes for 3.4/3.2/0.4 in only 14 minutes per game. Again, he plays less than his ostensible backup.

Reserves:

Emmit Holt comes off the bench but logs more time than two of the starters. Holt shoots 52% from the floor and averages 12.4/5.6/1.0. Holt is only 6-7, but he’s Providence’s best defensive rebounder over Bullock. Isaiah Jackson is a 6-6, 225 guard with the body of a forward. He shoots 45% from the floor and 44% from behind the arc. The last bench guy likely to see much time is Ryan Fazekas. Fazekas is a 6-8 pick and pop four who has grabbed exactly zero offensive rebounds this year but is shooting 39% from behind the arc.

Three questions:

- Can (or should) Trevon go? Right now the team is being characteristically vague about Trevon’s ankle. He’s going to be day to day on it until he can get some rest. Were he to sit against Providence, he could get a week without putting game stress on it. Would that be better for Xavier in the long run?

- Which Rashid do we get? The Rashid Gaston that dismantled Nova is the one that Coach Mack thought he was recruiting. 23/10/1 in 30 minutes is exactly what a team down its two best players needs. The guy who went for 17/20/5 over the span of the four games prior to DePaul isn’t really doing anyone much good and more than earned his demotion to the bench.

- Where is Sean O’Mara? Against Seton Hall O’Mara scored 11 points and snared five rebounds in 14 minutes. Since then he’s managed more turnovers than points and against Villanova with the team desperately short of offense, he played just two minutes. O’Mara needs to be a bench threat to score for this team, because his defense certainly isn’t going to get him on the court.

Three keys:

- Be strong on the ball: The Friars come up with their turnovers with pressure. That means that guys like JP Macura and Malcolm Bernard need to take care of the ball. Somewhat bizarrely, the freshman point guard isn’t the worry, but the junior and the senior that flank him.

- Convert second chances: It’s all well and good to grab offensive rebounds, but Xavier needs to do something with them. Last game, the Musketeers turned 22 offensive rebounds into 12 points. That’s not going to get the job done and is, frankly, pretty awful. The opportunities will be there against Providence, X needs to use them.

- Find some depth: Even if Trevon plays tonight, he’s not going to be at 100%. Xavier needs to find a way to roll the rotations to get more than 11 combined minutes from Tyrique Jones and O’Mara. Relying on JP and Q for 40 minutes might win this game, but it will leave the Musketeers in no position to do anything come later.