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

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Providence comes to the Cintas Center for what promises to be an emotional senior night.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Providence
One of these guys has improved a ton in the past seven weeks.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Fun fact: Providence started the year ranked higher in the KenPom than Xavier. Things have changed a bit since then.

These teams faced off January 6th, when Xavier staggered to an 81-72 loss at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Since then, Xavier has decided that losing to anyone other than Nova is for suckers, an ideological stance that has placed them in the driver's seat for the conference title with two games to play.

Providence has split with Nova, but they've also split with DePaul, proving that just about any outcome is a possibility for them on any given night. They're 9-7 in conference and 18-11 overall, squarely on the bubble as March approaches. A win over X would all but punch their ticket.

Team fingerprint

The Friars have been kind of mediocre on defense on the whole, but they've got the best DRtg in the league since conference play started. They're really effective defending the arc, which is a huge boon in a league full of snipers. They're 8th in the Big East in defensive two-point percentage and no great shakes on the glass or in forcing turnovers. They pretty much live and die on their three point defense and a weird knack for generating live ball turnovers.

On offense, I'm afraid it's a bit of an ugly scene. They are 9th in the league in 3P% and 8th in 2P%, which isn't a recipe for success. They're good at getting to the line but bad at converting from it, and they land in the middle of the pack in ball security and offensive rebounding.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Kyron Cartwright Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Sophomore
5'11", 185 Measurements 6'4", 190
11.5/3.1/5.9 Game line 8.8/3.1/5.1
0.427/0.39/0.758 Shooting line 0.449/0.347/0.813
Cartwright can shoot, but he really excels distributing the ball. His assist rate is ninth in the nation and his turnover rate is barely over 20%. He's almost the prototypical point guard.
Jalen Lindsey Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Senior Class Senior
6'7", 227 Measurements 6'5", 203
9.6/3.4/0.9 Game line 12.7/4.4/3
0.441/0.435/0.744 Shooting line 0.466/0.355/0.828
Lindsey is an excellent three point shooter with the lowest usage rate on the team. His length makes him a good defender and his shooting makes him the 44th most offensively efficient player in the nation.
Alpha Diallo Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 211 Measurements 6'6", 202
12.2/6.5/2.2 Game line 19.2/5.6/2.7
0.459/0.241/0.726 Shooting line 0.454/0.434/0.84
Diallo isn't an outside threat, but he's good on the offensive glass and getting to the rim. On a team that is decidedly mediocre from the line, he fits right in.
Rodney Bullock Power Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Freshperson
6'8", 225 Measurements 6'7", 218
14.4/5.9/1.2 Game line 8.7/3.8/1.5
0.44/0.351/0.742 Shooting line 0.556/0.378/0.75
Bullock is the Friars leading scorer, but that comes more from volume than from efficiency. He's decent everywhere on the floor, elite nowhere, and a solid but not great rebounder.
Kalif Young Center Kerem Kanter
Sophomore Class Senior
6'9", 255 Measurements 6'10", 240
5/4.6/0.7 Game line 10.1/4.9/0.5
0.538/0/0.492 Shooting line 0.553/0.319/0.766
Young is Providence's best rebounder and shot blocker. Inside he's respectable, but he's not a well developed offensive threat. If he stays out of foul trouble he really changes the way the Friars can play defense.

Reserves

Isaiah Jackson is a 6-6 swing that will see more floor time than Young, who starts. Jackson is a good three point shooter who becomes markedly less effective the closer he gets to the rim. Nate Watson is a 6-10, 260 big who will help fill the time when Young is down. He blocks shots at a 5.7% rate and is an effective inside scorer. He will consistently play himself out of rebounding position. Maliek White is a sophomore guard who provides shooting depth off the bench and will be joined by Drew Edwards, who provides little past the team’s best free throw percentage. If freshman Makai Ashton-Langford plays, he’ll attempt to gun himself hot. His 77.2 offensive efficiency rating for the year suggests that’s unlikely.

Three questions

What happened at Providence? Tre shot 4-13 and was just 2-5 from the line. Kaiser managed an ORtg of 0 in 23 minutes. Big Sean got just 8 minutes. Kerem went for 24 and 12 in just 20 minutes and it somehow wasn’t enough to get X over the hump. A lot has changed since that game, and most of it on Xavier’s end has been favorable. The Muskies’ increased depth - Naj and Scruggs combined for 2 points - should be a big boost this time around.

How will the team handle senior night? It’s not likely the theme will alter Coach Mack’s rotations at all, but the emotion of it all will be a factor. Xavier is honoring four rotation players and Matt Singleton. Two of those rotation players comprise one of the best duos in school history. There’s going to be a lot to work through before the game even tips off.

Is Ed Cooley a good coach? Two years ago during March Madness, I tweeted that exact question and was greeted by a Twitter lynch mob of Providence fans. Back in the present day, I watched his team get run off its home court by DePaul before turning around and knocking off Nova four days later. He has one win in four NCAA tournament appearances and could well finish this year with a career .500 record in Big East games. He’s not the 2010 Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year Award winner for no reason, but I’m still wondering: is Ed Cooley a good coach?

Three keys

Ride the seniors. Do you think JP might come out a little bit hyped for his last game at Cintas? I suspect he might. Home Tre has been not a thug but a tough guy on the court all year. Kerem demolished Providence last time, and Big Sean is once again riding a cresting wave of form as the stakes get higher. These guys can carry the day for Xavier.

Pound the paint. Providence’s defense is hard outside but squishy inside, not unlike a jellybean. X is equipped to eat in the middle, which will either force Providence to come off the arc or allow Kerem to go 10-14 from inside it again. Either way, working inside out is the way forward for Xavier’s offense tonight.

Win the conference. Xavier has one hand on the trophy already, and a win tonight will give them no less than a share of the Big East conference title. It has been seven years since the Muskies won the league, and that was a different league than the one they’re in now. My gut tells me this team isn’t going to let the opportunity slip.