Xavier and Providence are both barreling toward NCAA Tournament appearances, but an early March matchup between the two will have major implications in the Big East. The Musketeers and Friars are tied for second in the conference, putting the winner of this game in strong position to earn the No. 2 seed before next week’s conference tournament in New York. Who will separate themselves?
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Wednesday’s matchup in Cincinnati.
Providence vs. Xavier Odds
Providence enters as a 3-point favorite, sitting at -170 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 154.5 points.
These two teams played a razor thin game in February, when Xavier was at home but still getting used to life without Zach Freemantle. Will the Musketeers’ inconsistent play of late doom them in a tough road environment?
Providence vs. Xavier Prediction & Pick
Xavier matches up pretty well against Providence, with an offense capable of beating in the Friars’ shaky defense. Whether that offense will show up at its best on the road is a fair question. Xavier has been held under 70 points in three of its last five games, with two of those three games on the road.
Providence, on the other hand, hasn’t scored under 70 points at home since the very first game of the season. That’s 14 consecutive home games above 70 points, including recent outbursts against Creighton (94) and Villanova (85). The Friars are well positioned for a big offensive showing against Xavier’s unsteady defense.
The Musketeers had one of the nation’s most dangerous offenses when Freemantle was on the court, but the unit has been far too inconsistent to rely on in this setting. Providence -3 is the pick.
Providence vs. Xavier Key Matchups
There’s no doubt the loss of Freemantle has hurt Xavier’s offense. One of the best scoring teams in the country through the end of January has scored under 70 points in three of its last five games. The Musketeers have continued to play well at home, but they won’t be home on Wednesday.
One of Xavier’s wins without Freemantle was a narrow overtime victory over Providence in February, when the Friars allowed 76 points in regulation. The defense is the biggest concern in this game for Ed Cooley’s team. Providence is 191st in the nation with 70.1 points allowed per game, though opponents aren’t shooting especially well from three. Providence has allowed 86 points to Creighton and 87 points to UConn in its last four games, with Georgetown and St. John’s boosting the Friars’ numbers.
Holding back Xavier’s offense will be a challenge even without Freemantle. The Musketeers shoot nearly 40% from beyond the arc, one of the best marks in the nation. Three-point shooting is what Xavier hasn’t lost with Freemantle out, but it’s become even more important in the meantime. Colby Jones and Jack Nunge also shoot efficiently from inside the arc, something that’s helped Xavier stay afloat without Freemantle’s presence.
Jones, Nunge, and Souley Boum all posted 20+ points against Providence in February while shooting a combined 5-of-16 from three-point range. As great as Xavier is from beyond the arc, it won’t be bombs away against the Friars. Providence will have to defend mid-range shots while being mindful of how dangerous the offense is from three – that’s a real challenge.
It’ll be a separate challenge for Xavier to slow Providence’s offense down. The Friars don’t shoot the lights out but don’t have a glaring weakness in their offensive profile, averaging 78.8 points per game.
Providence is a terrific rebounding team, which leads to second chances and will be an advantage over Xavier with Freemantle out. Nunge helped make up for his absence last time, grabbing 14 rebounds, but that might not be sustainable with Bryce Hopkins and Ed Croswell averaging a combined 16.2 rebounds per game.
The Musketeers defend the three poorly, which has hurt them a few times of late. Luckily for Xavier, Providence just doesn’t shoot many threes. The Friars are 305th in the nation in three-point attempts, with Noah Locke and Jared Bynum the only real threats from beyond the arc. Locke did shoot 6-of-7 from three last time, so he’s a player to watch.
Xavier is better equipped to defend closer to the basket, even without Freemantle, and that’s where Providence will be. Sean Miller’s team had mixed results in February, with Hopkins struggling and Croswell turning in one of his best performances of the season. That was enough for a Xavier win. Slowing down Hopkins will again be the key, and it’ll be even more of a challenge on the road.