The Big East regular-season title is likely on the line. Can Providence silence the doubters with a win over Villanova?
How to Watch
Time: 8:00 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Location: Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, RI
Records: Villanova 19-6 (12-3) | Providence 21-2 (11-1)
KenPom Rankings: Villanova – 9 | Providence – 47
NET Rankings: Villanova – 6 | Providence – 29
This is the Big East game we have all been waiting for. A top-10 show down between the two best teams in the Big East: Villanova and Providence. A chance for Providence deniers to say, “I told you so” if Villanova wins. A chance for Providence to continue their winning ways and keep proving everyone wrong just like they have all season.
Let’s be honest, no one besides maybe Providence fans (I’ll own it, I had them 9th in the preseason… yikes) had this team at the top of the Big East. No one had Ed Cooley as a potential Coach of the Year Candidate. And no one wants to believe in them even still. Providence detractors have come up with every excuse in the book to devalue what the Friars have done so far. Chief among those excuses is that they have yet to play Villanova. Well, here we are.
The predictive metrics love Villanova and hate Providence, but that’s only because Providence is breaking the metrics. The Friars are an incredible 9-0 in games decided by five points or fewer. That’s not supposed to happen. Math be damned. It’s easy to joke that the Friars are lucky using a metric that you probably don’t understand, but great teams find a way to win and that’s exactly what Providence has done in every single close game.
The Friars aren’t flashy and perhaps this is the problem people have with them. They’re not some all-time team by the numbers, and they don’t necessarily have a nationally recognized super star who can’t be stopped. They are a deep, veteran team that knows how to win. The Friars have multiple guys and multiple lineups that are getting it done every night.
I’ll use one KenPom stat that Friars fans might appreciate to showcase their depth. EIGHT different Friars have won the KenPom “MVP” this season. Seven different players have been named the KenPom MVP on at least two occasions. The Friars essentially play an 8-man rotation which means someone always steps up and the team rides the hot hand(s).
Ed Cooley is pressing all the right buttons and getting everything he possibly can out of this team. That’s what good coaches do. The Friars have passed nearly every test this season. Now they have to do it against Villanova.
I feel like I say this whenever I preview a game for Villanova. There’s just not a ton to say about them. You can criticize their depth or question their frontcourt, but they don’t really have many weaknesses, so you better bring your best. You know exactly what to expect. Sound defense that tries to take away your best options.
On offense you get decisive, purposeful ball movement, lots of pump fakes, and probably not too many mistakes. Year in and year out the Wildcats are a well-coached, smart, and efficient team. They are always steady, never getting too high or too low in-game and this team is more of the same.
The Wildcats may not look totally invincible this year, but we should all know better than to ever doubt Jay Wright. After some tough non-conference losses and dropping an ugly one to open Big East play against Creighton Villanova has won 12 of their last 14, only losing to Marquette (side note, the last team Providence lost to… Marquette). Once again, Villanova is right in the mix for another Big East regular-season title. The only thing standing in their way is Providence and I’m sure they know what is on the line. You know Villanova is going to come out and execute. Providence will have to do the same.
My brain is telling me to pick Villanova, but my gut is telling me to pick Providence. Sorry brain. This will be a slow, grind-it-out type of game that no doubt favors Villanova. My primary concern is the Friars coming out with early game jitters. This is, after all, a huge game for them and Villanova is not really a team that rattles. Providence knows what everyone has been saying about them and what everyone will say if they lose.
If Providence can hold steady early and get the crowd involved, I think they find a way to win what should be a back-and-forth game. I’m going to go against my better judgment here and pick against Jay Wright. Something is just telling me the Friars luck isn’t about to run out at home. Friars move to 10-0 in games decided by 5 or less, further solidify their position as a top 10 team, and move one step closer to winning their FIRST EVER Big East regular-season championship.