The last time these two teams met, Xavier was just figuring out how to get by without Zach Freemantle after losing him to a foot injury. The game itself was a dogfight, with Xavier battling fatigue that turned to exhaustion and ten missed free throws to outlast Providence in OT. Since that final horn, X has largely treaded water, going 3-3 while outscoring their opponents by 57.
As fans of 1997 Ben Folds Five hit "Brick" can attest, there are worse things than treading water though. Xavier's performance without Freemantle has been enough to keep them on pace to make a four seed according to most reputable bracketologists. The Big East title has gone, but if I had offered you this position as a guarantee back in November, I suspect you'd have been interested.
Lining up across from Xavier will be a formidable and motivated foe in Providence. Since falling at X, they've beaten Georgetown twice by an aggregate score of 32, outlasted Creighton in double OT, and given scalding hot Nova its only loss in its last 7 played. The only blemishes are road losses at St. John's and UConn. This is a tough team to beat anywhere, but they're especially formidable at home, where they haven't lost in over a year.
Providence lives at the free throw line on offense; nobody in the league gets there more often and scores a higher percentage of their points on FTs. They're a good three-point shooting team by percentage, but only about 30% of their attempts are from deep. They're comprehensive in the freebie war, flying to the offensive glass and never turning the ball over. They're not great inside the arc and - thanks to being 274th in the nation in average height - get a lot of shots blocked.
Their defense makes its bones on smothering the arc. They're holding Big East opponents under 30% from deep and only allow about a third of opposing attempts in league play to come from behind the arc. This comes at a cost, namely being 9th in the league in two-point percentage defense. They defend the glass well, especially for being so small, and don't let teams get to the line much. They're not a team that forces many turnovers, but that's the only of the four factors in which they're below average.
|Jared Bynum||Point Guard||Souley Boum|
|"5'10"", 180"||Measurements||"6'3"", 175"|
|Bynum has taken significant steps back on offense this year, with his shooting from the floor and his free throw rate both well down. His assist rate is also down, but his TO% has improved from last season. He's 10 of his last 15 from deep in league play and, despite his struggles, certainly retains the capacity to hurt you in crunch time.|
|Devin Carter||Shooting Guard||Adam Kunkel|
|"6'3"", 195"||Measurements||"6'4"", 185"|
|After an uninspiring freshman campaign at South Carolina, Carter has blossomed in the Big East. in addition to being an excellent defender, he draws a ton of fouls and converts reasonably well at the line. He's a little shot happy for someone with his shooting numbers and he's not going to be confused for a distributor, but he is a dangerous two-way player.|
|Noah Locke||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|"6'3"", 210"||Measurements||"6'6"", 205"|
|Locke is a deadly shooter when he gets rolling, as he demonstrated when he went 6-7 from deep against Xavier. Thank goodness possibly good coach Ed Cooley didn't draw up the last play for him! He's shooting 43% from deep on huge volume on conference play. His whole contribution on both ends basically amounts to shooting; he doesn't pass, rebound, or defend to speak of.|
|Bryce Hopkins||Power Forward||Jerome Hunter|
|"6'7"", 220"||Measurements||"6'8"", 215"|
|Despite what getting completely pocketed by Big Rome might lead you to believe, Hopkins can actually play ball. He's averaging one made three a game in league play on 43% shooting from deep and is elite at getting to the line. He's also an excellent defensive rebounder and solid defender. He's probably not going to shoot 3-14 again, though it would be nice if he did.|
|Ed Croswell||Center||Jack Nunge|
|"6'8"", 240"||Measurements||"7'0"" 245"|
|Croswell isn't the biggest dude, but he is a good finisher and takes almost 90% of his shots at the rim. He has taken just 38 jumpers in his three years at Providence; his range is less than his wingspan. He's also an excellent offensive rebounder and a serviceable defender, though he can be a bit foul prone.|
Not much, to be honest. They're 247th in the nation in bench minutes, though that number is artificially suppressed a bit by the time Bynum spent out through injury.
Senior big man Clifton Moore is a load in the paint, clocking in at 6'11", 240. He has been seeing some more run lately, though his biggest minutes have come against Georgetown and Butler. He can board at both ends and defends the rim well without fouling too much. He might get a look against Jack Nunge.
Alyn Breed and Jayden Pierre offer backcourt depth. Breed's shooting has been awful and he is turnover prone, but he's a good defender. Pierre is 12-21 from deep this year, but he turns it over even more than Breed and is likely a year away from being fully in Cooley's circle of trust.
Corey Floyd is a 6'4" freshman wing who can shoot it well but - get this - turns it over too much. His minutes have bounced up and down, but his usage rate is consistently low.
-Can Jerome Hunter contain Bryce Hopkins again? Ed Cooley was priming the officials for a bit of home cooking in the post-game presser after X won at Cintas, complaining about the amount of contact Hopkins had to play through. Another word for that "contact" would have been "defense", at it was clear that Hopkins and his coach didn't like it. Providence depends on a friendly whistle to score; the zebras might be a big part of this matchup.
-Can Souley shake free? Inasmuch as Hopkins probably won't shoot 3-14 again, sharp fans might look for better than 1-9 from deep from Xavier's senior leader. He still managed to go for 20/3/9 and an ORtg of 111, but if he can knock down a couple more long jumpers against the Friars' smothering defense, he might be able to make the difference tonight.
-What does Cesare Edwards have to offer? Jerome Hunter and Jack Nunge combined for 75 minutes in the home leg of this matchup, which is a comical number of minutes to put on your starting bigs. By the end, Big Rome was cramping and Jack was sucking wind. Since that game, Edwards has seen double-digit minutes 3 times, including a career-high 18 against Seton Hall. If he can be serviceable enough in the paint to spell his colleagues in the middle of the game, it might make the difference down the stretch.
-Keep it clean. In 45 minutes at Cintas, Xavier turned the ball over 5 times and committed just 14 fouls, an impeccable performance against a tough opponent with a rotation patched together on the fly. It's a tough ask, but the closer they can come to executing at that level, the better their chances of coming out of Rhode Island with a win. The lapses in concentration that have plagued them lately will sink them if they appear in this one.
-Attack the paint with the guards. Souley and Colby combined to shoot just 2-12 from beyond the arc, but they were 14-23 on twos. Providence's defense keys on defending the arc; as good as the three-ball has been to Xavier this year, getting into the paint off the bounce and ball movement is the way forward in this one against a team with active guards but no rim protector.
-Kill possessions on the defensive glass. Providence lives for offensive rebounds, and their big men will eventually wear Xavier's down if they're allowed to shoot second and third shots. Foul trouble and easy points come on recovering misses; the Muskies need a five-man commitment to defensive rebounding to take the load off the starting bigs and cut the legs out from under the Friars' attack.