Alright. After a week of anticipation in lieu of having any Villanova Wildcats basketball to watch, we now know that the ‘Cats are set to go up against the Providence Friars in their noon tip-off game this afternoon. But what exactly do this season’s version of the Friars have in store for the ‘Cats?
For one, they’re young. By no means are they Georgetown young, but two of the Friars’ starting guards(they play a four-guard lineup) are their top two recruits from the Class of 2018, A.J. Reeves and David Duke. Senior Isaiah Jackson adds experience to the backcourt, while junior Alpha Diallo adds that plus a healthy heaping of star-power on top. Diallo is averaging 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, and has been one of my favorite players in the Big East ever since I saw him put up 22 points and 10 boards on the ‘Cats in last season’s Big East tile game loss. In short - the stage is not too big for him, and more often than not he rises to meet the occasion. This is a theme that pervades through this Providence team, with Duke - who scored 16 after averaging 6.8 points before Wednesday - praising his and his team’s hungry mentality coming into the Garden after their 80-57 win over Butler.
Reeves only scored 3 points against Butler but the ‘Cats need to make sure not to lose him in the shuffle, as the freshman is averaging 10.7 points this season while shooting 40.2% from deep. Not that it’s only Reeves who is going to let it fly. Five players on Providence - all guards - attempt more than 2 attempts from beyond the arc per game. And although they are only shooting 33% on three point shots this season and less than that in conference play, they’re hot: against Butler the Friars made 11 for 23(47.8%) triples.
And the Friars do not only pose a threat from the outside. A third underclassman plays a key role for Ed Cooley’s squad: sophomore and starting center Nate Watson. Unusual for a team that plays four-out, the 6-10 Watson - who hasn’t shot a three through two seasons at Providence - is the team’s second leading scorer(11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Although Jay Wright has opted to give Jermaine Samuels more minutes at the five in order to spread the floor on offense, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree could see more run than has been the case recently in order to counteract the threat of a true center who can score the ball from the post. Another possibility is playing Samuels while giving the stronger Eric Paschall a chance to try to bully Watson out of the post at times - my suspicion is no matter who takes most of the load, the ‘Cats will approach the task of shutting the sophomore big down by committee. For his part, Watson said after the game against Butler that he has prepared in the run-up to the tournament to guard Samuels, Cosby-Roundtree, and Paschall.
No matter what any particular Providence roster looks like, Ed Cooley’s teams always come to play in the Big East Tournament. After playing the ‘Cats to an overtime in a title game loss last year and winning by 23 last night, they’re confident and looking to play spoiler. Jay Wright’s team is out to win their third straight Big East Tournament in a row, and regardless of their seed this Providence team will serve as a good litmus test of what to expect from the ‘Cats this weekend.