SCOUTING PROVIDENCE!! FRIARS WON'T BE FREINDLY!!!
Andy Mac Williams,
BIG EAST leader Xavier(3-0 in conference, 15-1 overall) heads east to Rhode Island for a noon Saturday showdown against the Providence College Friars(TV-BIG FOX-WXIX Channel 19 in Cincinnati). PC(10-6 overall, 1-2 BIG EAST) is smarting after back-to-back league losses(at Creighton last Sunday 83-64 and home at Dunkin' Donuts Center Wednesday 95-90 in OT to Marquette). Friar coach Ed Cooley said he was "devastated" by the MU defeat. His team blew a 6 point lead with 1:17 remaining in regulation and his defense gave up 52 points to Marquette guard Marcus Howard(tying an all time BIG EAST single game scoring record). Howard poured in 42 points during the second half and the overtime making 11 three pointers. Xavier can identify!! Marcus ripped the Muskies for 34 points in a blow-out MU win at Milwaukee last February.
XU has struggled at the Dunk(1-3 in New BE games since 2014). XU did lose one of those in overtime(2015). 11 months ago PC cruised to a 75-63 win over Xavier in their building(Another Revenge Tour Stop for the Muskies this Saturday??). Trevon Bluiett did not play(ankle sprain). X was hamstrung by foul trouble and in the throes of that ugly 6 game losing streak. The vibe seems different and much better this time. Xavier is now operating with a solid 9 man player rotation and riding a 10 game winning streak. Bluiett is healthy.
The Muskies are thriving on the road(wins at Wisconsin, Northern Iowa and Marquette). J.P. Macura plays well at PC. X debuted their 1-3-1 zone at the Dunk three years ago with Macura chasing up top. They almost pulled off an incredible comeback. Two years back J.P. drained a long "three" late to clinch a huge victory. Last season Macura managed 17 points in a discouraging Xavier loss. J.P. has been Xavier's best player in the three BIG EAST wins(18PPG-4REBS-3.3 ASSISTS-key steals and blocks-few turnovers and consistent vocal leadership).
PC is struggling with injuries(Senior center Emmitt Holt-out for the year-ankle injuries to starting guards Kyron Cartwright and Alpha Diallo). Senior forward top scorer and rebounder Rodney Bullock did not play against Marquette because of stomach flu. Senior wing Jalen Lindsey played with a fever. Odds are both Bullock and Lindsey will be ready for XU Saturday. Cartwright and Diallo played big minutes against MU. Coach Cooley needs to stop the early season bleeding quickly with an upset of Top 5 Xavier. He knows how to win. PC is working on a run of four straight NCAA bids.
The Friars play primarily man-to-man defense. They are loaded with long talented guards and wings. PG Cartwright is a crafty slippery lefty Los Angeles guard who's among the top assist guys nationally when healthy. He shook off a sore ankle and pumped in 29 points in the Marquette OT loss although his 9 turnovers were a function of the ankle problem. 6-7 Sophomore Alpha Diallo is a handful(11PPG-6REBS). He's averaging almost a double-double in Big East games. 6-7 Jalen Lindsey is a streaky deadly three point sniper when feeling well.
Cooley started 6-7 Isaiah Jackson against MU to replace Bullock and he came up large(19 points-7 rebounds). Replacing Holt on the low block is a work in progress. Frosh Nate Watson(6-20, 250) proved a lone bright spot in a bad shooting defeat at Creighton(20 points in 20 minutes). Soph Khalif Young(6-9, 260) stepped up in the Marquette game(10 points-7 rebounds-4 assists). Frosh PG Makai Ashton Langford(Brewster Academy) is the heir apparent to Cartwright, but has found BIG EAST competition tough sledding so far.
HOW DOES XAVIER WIN THIS???
PC will be a difficult "out" for Xavier. Expect Bullock to play and Lindsey to be close to full health. Cooley abhors home losses and he's already behind schedule at 7-2 with "Ls" to Minnesota and Marquette. PC does struggle at the free throw line(handicap in any close game). Turnovers were a problem in the losses to Creighton and Marquette. X can make hay against their Frosh PG if Cartwright ever comes off the floor.
The Muskie three headed center monster(Jones-O'Mara-Kanter) should thrive against Young and Watson. My pick Xavier 76 Providence 71. Xavier wins the second half and puts the game away at the free throw line in the final four minute war. The Muskies' 9 man rotation wins out again. X takes care of the ball(58 assists to 35 turnovers in 3 BIG EAST wins so far). XU thrives at the foul line(29 attempts/game versus 14 for the bad guys).
The Muskies are road tough with 3 away wins already in the bank. Add on Road Win #4 at PC!! Bring on Villanova in Philadelphia Wednesday!!