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Villanova Basketball 2022-23 game preview: No. 23 Providence Friars

For the first time this season, at the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova faces off against Providence.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Butler Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles-49ers isn’t the only big game in town on Sunday afternoon, as the Villanova Wildcats return from a bye week of their own to take on the Providence Friars at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats enter with a 10-10 overall record and a 4-5 mark in conference play. They last completed their regular season series sweep of Georgetown and St. John’s. Now, they’ll get their first look at Providence this year.

As for the Friars, they are also coming off of back-to-back wins, defeating Butler and DePaul to improve to 16-5 overall and 8-2 in Big East action.

Sunday’s game is scheduled to tip-off at 12 p.m. ET. If you’re going to the game, you’re strongly encouraged to arrive early or take public transportation to avoid chaotic traffic.

Striking while the iron’s hot

The Wildcats will come in well-rested after back-to-back victories. While Providence will be a step up in competition in comparison to St. John’s and Georgetown, the Wildcats were able to pull off recent grind-it-out wins, where defense, late-game execution and their composure carried them through in the end of closely-contested games and situations that they had previously lost earlier in the season.

Those experiences will help the Wildcats, now back at home, against an opponent that has historically been scrappy, tough and usually give the Wildcats some hard-fought battles.

Sunday will likely be a close one, especially if the ‘Cats are able to continue to build off of their recent wins. While Providence has been impressive, it hasn’t been nearly as successful away from home.

The AMP (R.I.P. Dunkin Donuts Center) continues to be a tough place to play and not much has changed for the Friars, despite the name change, boasting a 12-0 record at home. However, Providence is only 4-5 in away or neutral site games. KenPom is expecting a close one, listing Providence as a 53% favorite to win, with a predicted score of 70-69.

For the ‘Cats to be successful though, they’ll need to double down on their efforts on the glass. After a scrappy effort against St. John’s in an ugly game, the Wildcats will need to be prepared for another physical game. Villanova hasn’t been the strongest rebounding team, but it’ll need to channel its greatest effort yet.

Providence is one of the top rebounding teams around. The Friars are sixth in the country according to KenPom in offensive rebounding rate (37.7%), and still among the top 85 in defensive rebounding. Their starting five doesn’t have overwhelming size, just tenacity. The Friars have three 6-foot-3 players, one 6-foot-7 forward and Ed Croswell, who is 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, to round out their starting five. They do have two 6-foot-11 players off the bench, with Clifton Moore and freshman Rafael Castro.

The Friars have outrebounded their opponents in 18 of 21 games. Providence is 1-2 when it doesn’t outrebound its opponents.

The Friars got beat by Miami and lost to TCU. St. John’s gave Providence a scare at the AMP in a 83-80 Friar victory. The Red Storm narrowly edged them on the glass, 36-35, but the key was limiting Providence’s offensive rebounds (6) and second-chance points (7). Unfortunately for St. John’s, it didn’t execute well offensively in the final minutes and Providence capitalized to hang on for the win.

P.C. — Portal College

Not only is Ed Cooley a mastermind on the court, but the returning Big East Coach of the Year and Naismith Coach of the Year has shown he can win in the transfer portal, too.

There was hardly any luck involved when it came to constructing this roster and getting the new-look Friars to quickly rise into the AP Top 25 and be one of the best in the conference. They were able to do so even with their lone preseason All-Big East player, Jared Bynum, struggling out of the gate early and dealing with injuries — although he started to pick things up before going down against UConn on Jan. 4.

Despite losing all five starters from last season’s run to the Sweet 16, the Friars have reloaded behind newcomers Bryce Hopkins (Kentucky), Devin Carter (South Carolina), and Noah Locke (Florida/Louisville).

Hopkins leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Carter has been a two-way threat, averaging 13.1 points, 4.6 boards and 1.8 steals per game.

As for Locke, he’s helped keep opposing defenses honest. The Friars don’t have too many three-point shooting threats, but he’s relished in that role, averaging 10.7 points and shooting 36.8% from deep.

Former La Salle transfer Ed Croswell is having a career year in his third season with the Friars, contributing 12.5 points, 7.6 boards, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

Also keep an eye on Alyn Breed, he doesn’t have eyepopping numbers, but he has a knack for igniting a spark when needed or locking down on defense. He is a literal glue guy and helps bridge the roster filled with plenty of new faces. He is the only member of the starting five that has purely spent his entire college career at Providence. Breed’s scrappy play and toughness has drawn plenty of praise from opposing coaches, especially since being inserted into the starting lineup over the last five games due to various injuries. He embraces his role well and could easily be a pest on Sunday.

While ‘Nova can expect Providence to be hyper active on the glass, the ‘Cats will also need to be prepared to pack it in. The frontcourt will be tested, as the Friars score more than half of their points from inside the arc and only 30.9% of their shot attempts come from long range — which is well below the national average and 323rd out of 363. (For a point of reference, the Wildcats take 48.1% of their shot attempts from long range, which is seventh-highest in the country.)

They’re aggressive and get to the line often, boasting the 17th-highest free throw rate in the nation, and they shoot a respectable 73.5% from the charity stripe.

According to KenPom, their point distribution is as follows: 54.4% of total points are from two-pointers, 23.4% from three-pointers and 22.2% from free throws.