With only five regular season games left, we are officially entering the homestretch.
It also just so happens to be possibly the toughest leg on Villanova’s schedule, and there won’t be much room for error.
Villanova has climbed back to .500, entering the weekend with a 13-13 record and a 7-8 showing in Big East play.
The Wildcats’ recent three-game winning streak will truly be put to the test though, as they prepare for a road trip to Providence. Despite the arena name change, there’s no changing the fact that the now, AMP — Amica Mutual Pavilion — remains a tough place to play.
It’ll be a rematch of the Jan. 29 showdown of Villanova-Providence, where the Friars spoiled Justin Moore’s return and won 70-65 in a crazy Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Friars are 19-7 overall and recently survived a double-overtime battle against Creighton on Tuesday night to improve to 11-4 in Big East play.
They’ve been a bit up-and-down though, trading wins and losses. Since beating ‘Nova, the Friars took road losses to Xavier (in overtime) and St. John’s. In addition to the double-overtime win against Creighton, they also beat Georgetown.
Saturday’s game is set to tip-off at 4:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t plan on taking the road trip to Providence, the game will be available on FOX.
Can the ‘Cats break the streak?
When Providence last faced ‘Nova, the Wildcats were happy to welcome Moore back. While it was clear his presence shifted the dynamic and was a positive influence, he also had some rust to shake off in his first game back in almost a year.
Moore has grown more accustomed to game day since then, and the ‘Cats are now riding in with a three-game winning streak, but they’ll get a chance to prove that their recent success is for real against quality competition — no offense to DePaul, Butler and Seton Hall.
The Friars have been perfect at home this season. They did receive a few scares along the way to maintain their unblemished record at the AMP, including a one-point season-opening win over Rider, plus Marquette and Creighton pushing them into double-overtime, and St. John’s putting together a tough fight before a series of misplays down the stretch in their 83-80 loss to Providence. Their 10 other wins at home came by double figures.
Building blocks from the last time out
Channel a similar effort on the glass: One of the reasons why Villanova stayed within reach of Providence last time out was its effort on the glass. The Friars are a formidable rebounding team and they love feasting on second-chance opportunities, despite not having the tallest starting five, they have plenty of players that get after it. They don’t have any starters taller than 6-foot-8, but leading scorer and rebounder Bryce Hopkins (16.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game) and Ed Croswell (12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game) play much bigger than their size and frame suggests. Despite Villanova not being a great rebounding team, it managed to tie Providence in rebounds (30-30) and the ‘Cats limited the Friars to just six offensive rebounds. Providence has made teams pay on the glass, and it doesn’t get outrebounded or tied with other teams often.
Crunch time buckets: Defense is an imperative, and Villanova has been able to get stops and win ugly games, but it’ll always come down to being able to put the ball through the hoop. While defense has give Villanova a puncher’s chance in plenty of these close games, the inconsistency on the scoring end has also been the team’s detriment, especially in closing minutes.
It’s been a recurring theme and a bug, but the Wildcats shot just 3-of-10 in the final seven minutes of their last meeting with Providence. They’ve shown some improvement in recent wins, but the raucous environment will be unforgiving during any cold stretches.
The Friars don’t take too many threes, and prefer to do most of their damage inside or at the free throw line. 54.4% of their points come from inside the arc, and another 21.1% are from foul shots. Only 24.5% of their points are from beyond the arc, which ranks 332nd in the country. It’s unsurprising though, because only 30.7% of all shots are from long range, which is only good for 327th. Noah Locke is probably their top perimeter threat, averaging 11.0 points this season on a 38.2% shooting clip from the perimeter.
He was a non-factor though in the previous meeting, scoring just two points on 1-of-4 shooting. Aside from Hopkins, Croswell and Locke, Devin Carter is the fourth Friar that averages double-digit scoring, and he takes the second-most threes on the team, but cashes in on only 32.6% of them.
While the ‘Cats were solid defensively overall, they weren’t able to stop Jared Bynum, who has been inconsistent, except for that last outing against the ‘Cats, where he heated up, scored 17 of his game-high 19 points and spurred Providence to victory. Can he do it again? He hasn’t had nearly as good of a game since then, but that last performance alone will probably put the ‘Cats on high alert.