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Xavier v. Providence: Preview, matchups, and keys to the game.

With their backs against the wall, Xavier gets a game they have to win.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Marquette
“Do you think I’m a good coach?!?”
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier has the resume of an NIT hopeful right now, but all is not lost. Reasonable hope for putting together a case for an at-large bid may be gone, but if you're looking for reasonable, you've come to the wrong place. Hope, on the other hand, we still have in long supply. Needing to win about 9 more conference games, Xavier hosts Providence in a game that has to be one of those 9.

Providence comes in with their own problems, reeling under the burden of a 1-4 start in conference play. Their only bad loss came to Georgetown in double OT, but they can ill afford to let that number in the right hand column keep rising. For both of these teams, it's getting late early.

Team Fingerprint

Providence plays offense about as well as Xavier plays defense, which is not very. They're the worst offense in the league, thanks to having sucked out loud in scoring at all three levels. They're decent with ball security and do well on the offensive glass, but their EFG% of 45.3% in Big East games makes Larry Austin look like Larry Bird. If you want a sample size of more than 5 games, consider that their team success rate of 35.9% from deep is solidly above average. Ed Cooley likes to run a lot of flex action, and apparently defense have caught on to the oldest offense in the game.

Their defense is solid, thanks in large part to leading the conference in TO rate. They make life difficult inside the arc thanks to Nate Watson, Kalif Young, and Jimmy Nichols protecting the rim, but they're fairly permissive from deep. Their man defense doesn't really look to speed opponents up.

Players

Starting matchups
Maliek White Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Junior
6'3" 190 Measurements 6'4", 194
6.9/2.1/2.8 Game line 12.5/2.7/5.3
0.371/0.34/0.583 Shooting line 0.379/0.29/0.697
White passes the ball well and is a mediocre three point shooter, but he's not bringing a great deal to the table other than that. In five conference games even his assist rate (18.9) and three point shooting (20%) have deserted him
David Duke Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'5" 198 Measurements 6'3", 200
7.3/2.6/2.7 Game line 12.9/5/3.2
0.374/0.35/0.619 Shooting line 0.503/0.458/0.8
Duke turns the ball over too much and is another in a parade of thoroughly mediocre shooters on this team. He will create plays with the ball, but inconsistency has plagued him all season.
Alpha Diallo Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Junior Class Senior
6'7" 213 Measurements 6'4", 193
17.2/8.6/3.3 Game line 4.9/3.3/0.7
0.443/0.38/0.684 Shooting line 0.431/0.25/0.686
Diallo is Providence's best player. He rebounds well, shoots fairly well, and he doesn't commit a lot of turnovers. Diallo has only failed to score double figures once this year.
Jimmy Nichols Jr. Power Forward Naji Marshall
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'8" 220 Measurements 6'7", 222
3.9/3.1/0.8 Game line 13.3/7.4/3.4
0.508/0.267/0.429 Shooting line 0.391/0.197/0.729
Nichols is excellent inside the arc. 47.5% of his shots come at the rim. The farther out he gets and the more he handles the ball, the less effective he is. He also throws opponents shots at a nearly 8% rate.
Nate Watson Center Zach Hankins
Sophomore Class Senior
6'10" 250 Measurements 6'11", 245
11.1/5.4/0.4 Game line 10.5/4.9/0.8
0.57/0/0.589 Shooting line 0.712/0/0.62
Nate Watson knows what dude he is. 63% of his shots come at the rim where he generally finishes well. His 10.8% offensive rebounding rate has led to 20% of his shots at the rim being putbacks.

As we go to press here AJ Reeves, who was averaging 14.2 points and shooting 45.3% behind the arc, doesn’t seem as if he’ll be ready to go. His broken foot has already kept him out for eight games. Isaiah Jackson will play starter minutes off the bench as a swing forward. He’s an efficient scorer who shoots 34% from deep and 77% from the line. Jackson cares for the ball well and is effective on the defensive glass. Makai Ashton-Langford is still the same poor shooter he was last year, but since Big East play started no one has a higher assist rate (35.9%). Couple that with Ashton-Langford’s turnover rate of 14.7% and you have an excellent pass first guard. Kalif Young is the only other Friar to play in every game or average over seven minutes per contest. Young is a 6-9, 250 big body who dominates the defensive glass, blocks shots, and shoots 50% from the floor. Were he a bit better scorer, he’d be a real contributor.

Three Questions

-Who is Xavier? My heart tells me they're a rising underdog who fought back from hopeless deficits in their last two home games and gave Nova a scare at their place. This team is going places. My head tells me they're 7th in the BE in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. That team is going nowhere. This week will tell us a lot about which organ to ignore in evaluating X.

-Who guards Alpha Diallo? Naji, Tyrique, and Scruggernuts all figure to take a turn on Providence's best player per Coach Steele's presser, but if it comes down to needing to get him for one possession, who draws the assignment? For my money, Quentin Goodin's work on Max Strus should put him in the mix any time Xavier needs a stop on a big wing.

-Will Xavier stick with two big men? X had trouble defending Nova - what else is new? - with two bigs on the floor. Providence, it can easily be said, is not the offensive force Nova is. If Travis Steele can keep Zach Hankins from getting drawn out to the perimeter, there seems to be a solid chance Xavier can ride with it's best lineup rather than letting the opponent dictate play this time around.

Three Keys

-Force inside. Providence is a much better two-point defending team than three-point defending team, but Xavier isn't great from deep. The Friars downfall is that they have a real knack for hacking. If Xavier continues to not settle for perimeter play, they can live - and win the game - at the line.

-Protect the ball. It's obviously important every game, but the lynchpin of Providence's defense to this point in the conference is forcing turnovers. Xavier can stop this team in the half court. Stopping them after a steal as they run the other way for a layup is a much bigger ask.

-Scrap. This team has shown deep reserves of mental toughness to stay (just) above water this season. This is a game they can't afford to drop. I'm confident they'll give an effort concomitant to the stakes.