Busting Brackets

Big East Basketball at the Wells Fargo Center: Villanova Wildcats punish Providence Friars

Providence v Villanova : Swarmed by multiple black-jerseys all night, Villanova's Abington-grad, Eric Dixon, had to work (hard) for his 12 points and kept his composure under duress as Providence continued to double him.
Providence v Villanova : Swarmed by multiple black-jerseys all night, Villanova's Abington-grad, Eric Dixon, had to work (hard) for his 12 points and kept his composure under duress as Providence continued to double him. / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Without the services of (its) 2022-‘23 First Team All-Big East selection player, Bryce Hopkins, the Providence Friars are not the best version of themselves. After the Friars’ 6-foot 6-inch small-forward (star) tore his ACL during the early stages of Providence’s eventual loss to Seton Hall on January 3rd, the Rhode Islanders were forced to make a lot of adjustments that ultimately yielded mixed results.

Since Hopkins went down, the Friars have dropped 6 of their last 9 games including that 4-point loss to the Pirates just over a month ago as well as their most recent defeat at the hands of the Villanova Wildcats on Sunday night. Even though Hopkins’ season-ending injury has left an indelible mark on the Friars’ 2023-‘24 campaign, not all was lost for Providence and its first-year head coach, Kim English, who was able to make the most out of a bad situation by leading the undermanned Friars to 3 straight wins along with 3 of 4 before traveling to South Philly to face Villanova.

Amidst ‘Nova Nation in the Wells Fargo Center, however, the visiting team was forced to confront the stark truth about the rest of their season no more than 20 minutes after tip-off. Thanks to a putrid start on the offensive end that (also) came against a see-sawing program, Providence put up just 16 first-half points, saw its confidence evaporate, and had a 10-point deficit to boot in one-half’s time. From the home team’s perspective, all was good and well. Building on the momentum they were able to establish in the game’s opening half, the ‘Cats slammed the door on the Friars by rattling off 13 unanswered points to begin the second half.

Once ‘Nova’s Brendan Hausen drilled a three-ball at the 4:19 mark of the second half, it became apparent Villanova was a safe distance ahead of Providence; leading by 23 points with under 16 minutes remaining (39-16 with/ 15:41 left to play). While it’s true a 23-point lead is rather large, the Friars’ constant struggles to score points only made the Philadelphian’s advantage appear that much more pronounced. To say it was a rough outing for the away team would be an understatement. Still, Villanova’s trademark defense was in full flight for its fifth Big East victory and the success of its balanced scoring attack had a lasting impact as the game progressed.

Yesterday evening, Ed Cooley’s former squad wasn’t the only “team” that had an underwhelming performance in the city of Brotherly Love. Alongside his broadcasting partner, Fox Sports 1 (‘s) play-by-play guy, Dave Sims, did us all a huge disservice by diving into Eric Dixon’s background and Sims’ supposed helper wasn’t there to back him up or correct him. Born and raised in Philadelphia himself, Sims was understandably eager to lend us his knowledge about the local basketball scene and the longtime announcer would’ve made a show of his native ties had he been prepared.

Unfortunately, Sims wrongly pinned Dixon as a graduate of Germantown Academy when the ‘Nova power-forward’s alma mater is Abington Senior High School. Also, the mistaken announcer mentioned Dixon’s name in that (wrong-) light on multiple occasions. Unbeknownst to Sims, ‘Nova’s Jordan Longino graduated from Germantown Academy and while the former happens to be an accomplished commentator in his own right his performance last night would’ve been up to snuff for an inexperienced broadcaster with zero full games under his belt. Let’s hope Dave’s work isn’t rewarded with a round 2 anytime soon.

Hosting the Friars, an encouraging sign for the Villanova Wildcats and its shaky offense had to be the way they shared the ball. While it’s true the ‘Cats finished the game with just 68 points including 26 at-half, the Philly suburbanites dished out 17 assists and ‘Nova’s Lance Ware was responsible for a couple of them. Despite Ware’s limitations as a scorer, the Kentucky transfer was able to contribute to the ‘Cats’ offense by finding his teammates with the basketball. Not unlike the innate passing ability of Eric Dixon, Ware sees the court at a reasonably high level; particularly when he’s positioned in the low post and finding open perimeter shooters with crisp, on-target passes. For no good reason, the Providence defense doubled Ware during one of ‘Nova’s offensive possessions as the 6-foot 9-inch power-forward was handling the ball near the 3-point line; giving up an easy deuce in the paint after Ware made the right read with a nice pass to the open man. Given Ware’s total reluctance to shoot, attack the rim with his dribble, or even look at the basket, sending multiple defenders toward the non-scoring threat wasn’t the Friars’ brightest move.

Aside from the lift that Ware gave his team as a facilitator, the former SEC power-forward had quite an impact on defense; rejecting 3 shots and grabbing 5 boards on the defensive glass. Meanwhile, one of Ware’s fellow transfers, Maryland’s Hakim Hart, was able to have himself a well-rounded effort against Providence and finished the 18-point Nova victory with 9 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. While the Roman Catholic product certainly possesses a funky shooting motion, he’s able to be effective with it from time to time as he was against Providence; nailing 4 of his 7 shots including a 3-ball.

Like the rest of the Big East Conference, Providence isn’t willing to take any chances when it comes to game-planning for Villanova and its best player, Eric Dixon. In other words, the Friars’ defense was doubling Dixon virtually every time he touched the basketball; content to allow Dixon to pass out of it while forcing the other four ‘Cats on the floor to beat them. For the most part, Kim English’s defensive strategy worked well; limiting the former Galloping Ghost (of Abington) to just 8 shot-attempts and 12 points. Alongside his teammate, Justin Moore, Dixon is one of the last disciples of the Jay Wright era who’s still playing. Thanks to Jay’s wisdom, guys like Dixon and Moore are always stoic competitors; willing to play the game the “right” (/non-flashy) way and refusing to allow their opponents to dictate how they play. Against the Friars, Dixon didn’t overreact to Providence’s double-teams; continuing to take care of the basketball while making the prudent decisions with the ball in his hands.

Unfortunately, ‘Nova’s ball-dominant guards like TJ Bamba and Mark Armstrong aren’t able to play (& learn) under (/from) Jay Wright; and the duo’s uneven play in terms of learning how to play with vision and control pace is a huge bummer knowing that Wright would’ve been able to coach ‘em up.

Enough about the past.

Next. Latest top-25 power rankings. Latest top-25 power rankings. dark

Thankfully, this win over Providence could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the 2023-‘24 Wildcats. At 12-10 overall & 5-6 in Big East play, Villanova is ranked 7th in their conference and is nowhere near dead in the water quite yet. In a highly competitive conference that’s been characterized by an utter slugfest of unpredictable outcomes, the Wildcats are in position to make a run over the next month & change.

Time to see what Kyle Neptune is really made of.

Go 'Cats.