The Xavier Musketeers come into this game riding a season saving eight game stretch in which they have won six games, beaten Seton Hall on the road, obliterated DePaul, and punched with both Butler and Villanova. They also come into this game the second hottest of the two teams involved. The Providence Friars were dead in the water as early as November and as late as the last day of January. Early season losses to Northwestern, Penn, LBSU, and Charleston went from to full on disaster. The Friars righted the ship briefly, then went down with it again in a 4-4 conference start that saw their KenPom rating drop from a season opening 30th all the way down to 77th.
That has all changed again. The Friars lost at the Cintas and then lost to St. John’s to put their tournament hopes into a medically induced coma. Like Xavier, they have come electrically back to life, winning four straight, pounding Marquette at home, and beating Villanova away. They jumped from out of the tournament altogether in most bracket projections to securely missing the play-in games in the span of the week. When Xavier and Providence meet now, it’s as teams looking to complete the resume, not desperately trying to salvage a dead season.
Providence is sort of a Xavier light. Their offense is bad, but not nearly as bad as X’s. Likewise their defense is good, but it isn’t elite.
On offense the Friars move the ball extremely well, assisting on 60% of their made buckets, and crash the offensive glass. They’re an absolutely horrible shooting team, ranking 307th in the nation with a 46.6% effective field goal percentage. In their recent run their three point shooting has been significantly improved and they’ve gotten to the line well. Make no mistake though, this isn’t a great offensive team.
Right now, though, they are a great defensive team. Over the last ten games Xavier’s defense is seventh in the nation, Providence’s is fifth. The Friars won at Villanova by holding the Friars to a frankly shocking .79 points per possession and 5-30 behind the arc. The Friar defense causes turnovers and takes away the perimeter. They aren’t great on the glass, but they attempt to cover that by blocking roughly 10% of attempts against them.
|Luwane Pipkins||Point Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|5'11", 180||Measurements||6'4", 196|
|Pipkins is one of the best free throw shooters in the nation and far and away the best in this game. He's not a great shooter elsewhere, though, and his assist and turnover rates are too close for him to be an elite point guard.|
|David Duke||Shooting Guard||Naji Marshall|
|6'5", 200||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|Duke is excellent behind the arc and from the line and awful everywhere else. He's a three and D guy who is good enough at both of those things to play the second most minutes on the team.|
|AJ Reeves||Small Forward||Jason Carter|
|6'6", 205||Measurements||6'8", 227|
|Reeves is shockingly inconsistent (22 against Creighton, 2 against Xavier) and has struggled to follow up on a strong showing as a freshman. He can get hot and be a threat from deep, but he's just as likely to toss up a donut.|
|Alpha Diallo||Power Forward||Zach Freemantle|
|6'7", 210||Measurements||6'9", 225|
|Diallo is the most overrate player in the conference. He uses the ball more than anyone on the Friars despite having an offensive rating that has hovered just over Quentin Goodin's on the year. If he gets going he can be a threat, but he's not the horse he'll be portrayed as.|
|Nate Watson||Center||Tyrique Jones|
|6'10", 250||Measurements||6'9", 239|
|Nate Watson blocks shots (except from Jason Carter) and offensive rebounds. He's good at both of those things, and at finishing in close, but his insitence on fouling excessively limits his minutes.|
Ed Cooley has really shortened the bench in the last couple games of Providence’s run. Kalif Young plays at center when Watson hacks himself to the bench. Young is the better of the two at scoring and hits the offensive glass and blocks shots as well as Watson. There is no drop off there. Maliek White is better defensively than he is on offense and will come in to spell the guard spots. He’s not afraid to lift, but perhaps he should be. If Cooley goes deeper into his bench it will be for Emmitt Holt or Greg Gantt. Both are built like the rest of Providence’s forwards, but Holt is an accomplished shooter and defensive rebounder where Gantt struggles significantly on the offensive end.
- Can Xavier score? Providence is locked in defensively right now. Xavier’s offense, meanwhile, continues to exist mostly in theory. The Musketeers have turned it over 45 times in their last two road games. X won’t win this one doing that or by trying to turn this into the basketball equivalent of a field position game. They don’t have to be great, but they have to figure out a way to get the ball in the bucket.
- Who has to play eight? Neither of these teams is more than seven deep at this point. Bryce Moore’s balky knee has limited both his playing time and effectiveness and Ed Cooley is running a seven man rotation of his own volition. If either fatigue or foul trouble force either coach to go eight deep, a drop off could well ensue.
- Can Xavier stay hot? Xavier’s three point shooting has been quietly respectable the last two games. They now come up against one of the best three point defenses in the conference. If X finds a way to knock down even a third of their threes, they give Tyrique Jones and Zach Freemantle much more room to work and less competition for the inevitable bevy of offensive rebounding opportunities.
- Don’t get swamped early: In both of Xavier’s most recent losses (@Butler, Villanova) the game has essentially been over by halftime. The Musketeers can fight with anyone in the second half of a game, but that doesn’t matter if they spot a good team a double digit lead. Providence is a good team with a great defense. Giving them an advantage like that is the recipe for a road loss.
- Make Alpha Diallo put the ball on the floor: Diallo is having a terrible year. His offensive efficiency is 94.3 and that is only bolstered by his ability to convert at a slightly above mediocre rate at the line and from behind the arc in conference play. He’s essentially only valuable to his team when his out shot is falling. In conference play it has to the tune of 38%. Inside the arc he is shooting 41.7%. In his last three games he’s 5-23 inside the arc and has survived solely on converting at the line and jump shooting. If Xavier runs him off the three point line he becomes far less effective.
- Win the battle on the defensive glass: Both of these teams get after their misses and both of them miss a lot. Providence takes the team approach with Diallo, Nate Watson, and Khlif Young all recording a double digit OR% rate. Someone has to help at least clear space for Tyrique to do what he does. Xavier won the first meeting in large part because they only allowed seven offensive boards. Keep Providence in that 20% range again and things will look good for the Musketeers.
For our discussion on the import of this game, how Xavier’s offense impacts their March chances, and what the NCAA is doing about coronavirus, give a listen to the newest episode of Banter on the Parkway.