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Big East Basketball: Preview and keys to Creighton vs. Providence matchup

Creighton and Providence both look to establish themselves among the top teams in the Big East.

Alabama v Creighton
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Three Big Questions and The Bottom Line

Who will win the matchup down low?

If NCAA basketball was marketed like boxing, this matchup would be promoted as a heavyweight fight. “Strength vs. Size” would be printed on headlines across the nation with pictures of Josh Oduro and Ryan Kalkbrenner plastered below. Fanfare aside, Saturday’s matchup will be won and lost down low.

Providence’s road to victory starts with Oduro establishing himself in the paint early and controlling the boards. Extra possessions on the offensive glass could make the difference for the undermanned Friars. Oduro needs to lead the charge against one of the toughest matchups in the Big East, following the blueprint Marquette’s Oso Ighodaro laid out to stifle the Bluejays from the inside out.

On the flip side, Kalkbrenner has to identify Providence’s shortcomings in the paint and attack Oduro early. If he can get the Friars’ big into some early foul trouble, Kim English may be forced to turn to his inexperienced bench in a tough environment on the road. 

Can Kim English find an offensive system without Bryce Hopkins?

When Bryce Hopkins fell to the floor during Wednesday’s game against Seton Hall, the raucous crowd at the Amica Mutual Pavilion fell silent. As he was helped to the locker room, it became clear that Providence will need a new option to lead this team for the time being. 

Hopkins’ absence leaves a major gap in the Friars’ lineup. In the second half of Wednesday’s game, Corey Floyd Jr. stepped in and absorbed the majority of the minutes, but the offense never recovered. And measuring in at 6’4”, the sophomore guard transforms the Friars’ balanced line up into an undersized one. 

For Kim English, options are slim. Sophomore 6’10” forward Rafael Castro could solve the size problem, but early season impressions have left him as more of an afterthought in the Friars’ current rotation. This year’s freshman class offers another possibility, as Garwey Dual and Rich Barron could both make a solid case to crack the starting five. 

However, it won’t be the fifth man in this lineup that will make the difference. Devin Carter, Jayden Pierre and Davonte Gaines will all be relied upon to keep this offence humming without a major cog in the machine. With Oduro’s hands tied with a difficult assignment down low, look for the guards to step up if Providence can tip the scales in their favour.

Can the Friars compete with Creighton from outside?

On paper, Creighton poses a daunting task for opposing defences. The Bluejays starting lineup features a pair of sharp-shooters who can also slice to the rim, Baylor Scheiermann and Trey Alexander, alongside catch-and-shoot specialist, Steven Ashworth. With Kalkbrenner patrolling under the basket, the Friars will need to find a balance of keeping the ball out of the paint while keeping shooters honest.

On the other end of the court, Carter and Pierre could be relied upon for the bulk of Providence’s long-range shooting. The pair have started off their seasons shooting the ball well from deep, both hovering around 40% from three-point range. Gaines could also prove to be a good option, however the senior has taken a rather streaky approach to his distance shooting this year. After back-to-back games with five threes made in each, Gaines fell silent with only two points in Wednesday's loss to Seton Hall.

Without Hopkins as a reliable option to turn to on offence, the rest of the lineup will be challenged to maintain the team’s efficiency. Providence needs a lot to go right for this game to turn in their favour, and outside shooting needs to be a top priority for Kim English and Co. this Saturday.

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The Bottom Line: Creighton comes into this matchup healthy, rested, and ready to compete on their home court. Despite Providence’s strong start to the schedule, this team has trended downward after their monumental win over Marquette. Now, without Bryce Hopkins and coming off an upset loss to Seton Hall, Kim English’s squad is in a tough spot to try and steal a win. The Bluejays should find their way to victory in this one, but don’t expect the Friars to make it easy.

Tip-off is set to take place on Saturday, January 6, 2024 at 2:00 pm ET, at The Chi Health Center Arena in Omaha, Nebraska, broadcast on FS1.