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

For the second time in two games, Xavier faces a team missing a key frontcourt piece with a Q1 win on the line.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Providence
Try to remember the good times, or something.
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier feels dead and buried. Too many almosts and too few just enoughs have Xavier fans staring forlornly at Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter languishing in street clothes on the bench. In a season in which 16 points over 5 games have cost Xavier three Q1 wins, a Q2 win, and a brutal Q3 loss, what a difference either or both of those guys being healthy might have provided.

Providence feels an echo of that same pain, with their all-everything forward Bryce Hopkins having suffered a season-ending injury midway through their loss to Seton Hall. They've battles gamely without him, falling on the road to Creighton and St. John's. Like Xavier, they've been close enough to wonder how it would have shaken down if they had a healthy roster. Unlike Xavier, they did enough work in the non-conference to still be in a decent position in the context of seeking an at-large bid.

There is an upper limit to how many losses a team can sustain and still harbor reasonable hope on Selection Sunday. Xavier isn't there yet, but every clutch stop not gotten and game-winning shot gone begging eases them closer to the precipice. The season isn't gone yet, but you could be forgiven for not feeling good about where it stands. If Xavier can't get some results soon, it will all rest on one weekend in Madison Square Garden.

Team fingerprint

Elite defense. They're good but not great in 3P% defense, but they are relentless in running teams off of it. Instead they force teams to shoot a ton of twos, where they're top-10 in the nation in 2P% defense. They don't force many turnovers, but they've been very good at closing off the glass and defending without fouling. With the usual limited sample size warnings, it's worth noting that they have been sending opponents to the line way more frequently in conference play. It all adds up to the #6 defense in the nation, but the absence of Hopkins kind of puts a bit of a question mark over the whole thing.

Even with Hopkins, their offense was bad. They're 145th in the nation in AdjO, which is technically above average but pretty poor for a high major. They shoot a commendable 54.4% from inside the arc, but that is undermined by their habit of shooting more than 40% of their shots from deep. That would be understandable if they were good at it, but they're actually 201st in the nation with a 32.8% 3P%. They are, statistically, bad at free throws, bad at getting to the line, bad at offensive rebounding, and bad at ball security. Kim English's George Mason team was 233rd in offense last year, so this does represent a step forward for him.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Jayden Pierre Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Sophomore Class Senior
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'0", 188
8.8/1.7/3 Game line 9.6/4.2/5.1
41.8/43.5/90.5 Shooting line 41.6/32.3/83.3
Pierre is nails from the line and is a very good outside shooter, but he turns the ball over too much and struggles to much inside the arc to be a truly effective point guard. He's a good defender, though, and is generally a value added proposition for the Friars.
Devin Carter Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 190 Measurements 6'3", 200
17.8/8.5/3.1 Game line 18.3/4.9/1.8
49/38.8/66.1 Shooting line 45.3/41/80.7
Since Bryce Hopkins was injured, Carter has scored 25 and 31. He's undoubtedly the offensive focus of the team right now and his usage rate has been over 35% in each of those two games. He can and will shoot from everywhere and he's added some serious defensive rebounding bite to his game this year.
Corey Floyd Jr. Small Forward Desmond Claude
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'4", 210 Measurements 6'6", 203
3.5/2.9/1.3 Game line 14.8/4.9/3.8
37.3/14.8/55.6 Shooting line 41.1/25/73
Floyd has a DNP by coach decision on his record this year but has been thrust into a starting role now. He's played 30 minutes and 10 minutes in those two games, reflective of his season thus far. He has, quite frankly, not been good.
Davonte Gaines Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Senior Class Senior
6'7", 190 Measurements 6'7", 220
8.8/4.3/1.1 Game line 6.9/4.9/1.1
44.9/34.6/64 Shooting line 47.7/44/61.5
Ticket is very efficient and can, though doesn't always, score from all three levels. Good teams have had success pushing him outside to the point he's only taken 11 two point shots in BE play. Gaines is durable and solid across the board.
Josh Oduro Center Abou Ousmane
Junior Class Senior
6'9", 240 Measurements 6'10", 240
13.8/6.7/1.9 Game line 8.6/6.7/0.9
54/27.3/80.9 Shooting line 50.9/0/50
Oduro joins Gaines as guys who came with English from George Mason and have gotten better. He's a good shot blocker, good rebounder, and is extremely efficient on offense. He uses the ball well and a lot, but he's pressing and has shot 6-25 since the Hopkins injury.

Bench

Garwey Dual is the Friar who gets the most time off the bench. He’s a tall combo guard who blocks a lot of shots but is shooting a hilarious 27% inside the arc this season. Providence is really thin now, and only Rich Barron also averages 10+ minutes off the bench. He’s a swing forward who is dangerous from behind the arc. Rafael Castro is the only other Friar who is sure to come off the bench. He’s 6-11 and blocks shots, but he’s not scored in double digits since the very first game of the season and his season high in rebounds came the next game.

Three questions

-How much does Hopkins's absence hurt on the glass? Providence lives and dies off their defense, and it doesn't take John Wooden to know that a defensive possession isn't over until the defensive rebound is secured. Hopkins led the Friars in RPG and was second only to Devin Carter in DReb%. It's tough to replace the nearly 35 minutes of yeoman's work he was doing on the glass, and Xavier's conference leading OReb% might give the Muskies a foothold in this one.

-Where will the points come from? Xavier has a very good defense going up against an abject Providence offense. Providence has an elite defense going up against a mediocre Xavier offense. It seems unlikely that - barring someone going full Tre Campbell - either team will score more than 1 PPP by the time this one is done and dusted. Expect both coaches to be deep into their bags trying to generate some buckets.

-Is there a second viable big man on the roster? Nemo has the best ORtg in conference play at an unimpressive 97.5, but he has had trouble asserting himself on the defensive glass. Sasa Ciani has been worse both in ORtg and DReb%, but he has been unplayable on the offensive glass. Lazar Djokovic has been solid on the glass at both ends, but his ORtg in Big East play has been an abysmal - but still better than Ciani - 72.2. There have been flashes from each of them, but nothing consistent and comprehensive enough for one to separate himself from the crowd. Abou has cut back on the fouling significantly enough that he can eat up solid minutes, but X is crying out for one of the foreign legion to stake a claim as his running mate.

Three keys

-Attack Oduro. I know he's a solid defender and a good rim protector, but he also commits almost 5 fouls per 40 in conference play and has collected at least 4 fouls in 3 of his 5 Big East games. If Oduro gets into foul trouble, Xavier has one fewer obstacles between them and the offensive glass. That may well be a tipping point in this game.

-Bring out the press. Jayden Pierre is Providence's point guard when Devin Carter isn't doing everything for the team, and he can be fairly turnover prone. Carter himself is no stranger to coughing it up, and Providence isn't loaded with tertiary ballhandlers. Xavier flustered UConn with a late press but couldn't quite get it across the line; you can't tell me having Des Claude and Dailyn Swain out there with a few of their friends wouldn't cause chaos for Providence.

-Start it now. It's getting late early for Xavier, but they aren't out of it yet. I know it seems farfetched at the moment, but they probably have four more losses left as wiggle room for the rest of the year. If a 12-4 tear to close the season seems unlikely, trust and believe that nobody looked at the 10-9 team on Feb 1, 2004 and thought they'd go 13-1 from there to Selection Sunday. That team wasn't good until out of nowhere it was. This team is millimeters off of where it needs to be; if things click in, it's all to play for.