After securing its first conference win on Wednesday against Depaul, Villanova heads to Providence to face the Friars in “the Dunk” Saturday at 2:00 PM ET. Jay Wright and the Wildcats will be acutely aware that a performance comparable to the team’s five point win at home against Depaul will not cut it against a well-coached and dangerous Friars team.
Providence will be motivated to atone for a late game letup at home on New Year’s Eve when the team lost to Creighton 79-68. Overall, the Friars head into Saturday’s matchup with a 10-4 record, having played a relatively easy non-conference schedule outside of a few challenging games. Providence’s best win came late in December on the road at Texas, but the team (understandably) took a big loss on a neutral floor against Michigan, and suffered close defeats at the hands of Wichita State and UMass.
Providence 2018-19 Team Stats
Through 14 games, the Friars have shown themselves to be a strong defensive team that can do certain things well offensively. Across most of the key defensive metrics, Providence is ranked in the top third or better. The Friars are stingy inside the arc, holding opponents to 46.7 percent from two point range, and rank 53rd in the country in block rate despite not having a player that averages more than 1.1 blocks per game.
Offensively there are three things Providence has done very well thus far: Hit threes, get offensive rebounds, and get to the line. Providence is 36th in the country in 3PT shooting percentage, but it’s more about quality than quantity for the Friars. Providence is taking threes at the 316th highest rate in the NCAA, indicating the team is waiting for, and hitting, good looks from outside. Providence is also generating extra possessions through offensive rebounds, ranking 56th in the country. Sophomore center Nate Watson is nearly top-100 according to KenPom in offensive rebound rate, but Alpha Diallo, Jimmy Nichols, and Kalif Young are all aggressive rebounders. The team also gets to the line a considerable amount, ranking 45th in FT attempt to FG attempt ratio. As with most Ed Cooley teams, Providence wants to get to the rim for layups or shooting fouls.
Looking at the roster scoring distribution, Providence seems to be a team on the rise. The team has only one senior, Isaiah Jackson, in the rotation and several sophomores and freshmen are already contributing big minutes. The scoring load is handled by junior swingman Alpha Diallo, who averages 17.4 points per game on very solid shooting from three (40.7%) and a knack for getting to the line (59.6% FT rate). Behind Diallo was A.J. Reeves, a highly touted freshman guard, who was off to a hot start averaging 14.2 points per game. Unfortunately, Reeves suffered a foot injury on December 10th that will sideline him for four to six weeks.
Reeves was recruited alongside David Duke, another particularly talented freshman guard who, as a result of Reeves’ injury, has been called on to handle a larger role. Duke has struggled so far to find his footing, shooting only 37.3% from the floor while using 21.7% of all possessions and boasting a 1.2 assist to turnover ratio.
Stepping up big in Reeves’ absence has been Maliek White. White, a 6’2” junior guard, was playing only 19.8 minutes prior to the injury and averaging 5.1 points per game on just 35.4% shooting. However, since being inserted into the starting lineup, White has upped his scoring to 14.0 points per game, shooting 53.8% from the floor.
Providence will test Villanova on both ends of the floor, and to earn a win, the Wildcats will have to play a complete, 40 minute game. Offensively, Villanova has to force the likes of Duke, White, and Watson into bigger roles by neutralizing Alpha Diallo. The switch-everything defense, which is still a work in progress for the Wildcats, will have to be fluid in Providence’s pick and roll heavy offense. On the interior, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Eric Paschall will need to be disciplined against Nate Watson’s post up game and Providence’s dribble drives.
On the other side of the floor, Villanova is going up against a team that profiles similarly to Florida State — Long, switchable across positions, and happy to extend pressure on the guards. This matchup will be a test of Collin Gillespie, Phil Booth, and Jahvon Quinerly’s ability to handle the ball, penetrate the defense, and finish in the lane or kick to shooters. Sloppy play or indecisiveness will lead to turnovers and allow Providence to get out into transition for easy baskets.
The narrative for this game is clear — These are young teams with room to grow but a lot of kinks to work out. The winning team will rightly place a lot of stock in how they perform Saturday and what is achievable in conference play. The Wildcats will need to come out the gate strong and play solid defense if they are to claim an important early road victory.