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Game Preview: Wildcats look to bounce back with rematch against Friars

After suffering its first Big East loss of the season, Villanova looks to bounce back at home against a middling Providence team.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at St. John Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Following a hard-fought loss on the road at Marquette, the Villanova Wildcats return to the Pavilion to face the Providence Friars at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Previously unbeaten in Big East play, the 13th ranked Wildcats will be looking to right the ship against a Providence team that’s still a work in progress.

Providence comes into Wednesday’s matchup with a 14-10 record and are just 4-7 in conference play, good for 9th. On Saturday, the Friars earned their fourth win by defeating the enigma that is St. John’s Basketball, 70-56, in Madison Square Garden. Providence got a strong effort from sophomore center Nate Watson, who finished with 18 points and five rebounds, while Alpha Diallo chipped in with 10 points and 15 boards.

Providence Team Stats

Season PTS/G Opp PTS/G FG% 3P% FT%
Season PTS/G Opp PTS/G FG% 3P% FT%
2018-2019 71.8 68.8 42.0% 33.3% 68.8%
Conference Rank 10 2 10 10 9
NCAA Rank 214 115 288 237 226

Since the last meeting between these two teams, a 65-59 Villanova victory at the Dunk, Providence has stumbled to a 4-5 record and struggled to score points. The team ranks dead last in the Big East in points per game, and a big reason why is that they can’t get easy buckets. Encapsulated in their 47.7% effective field goal percentage, which ranks 293rd in the nation, is the 225th ranked 3PT FG%, the 299th 2PT FG%, and the 231st FT%. There’s nowhere on the floor the Friars can go to to get points.

Having identified that his group is offensively challenged, Ed Cooley has placed a higher emphasis on defense, and the Friars’ length and athleticism has allowed them to apply serious defensive pressure. The team allows the second fewest points per game in the Big East, trailing only Villanova, and their success comes from bothering shots and forcing turnovers through steals and blocks. Providence ranks 87th in effective FG% percentage and 78th in 3PT FG%, and the team is top-80 in turnover, block, and steal rate.

The offense continues to run through junior swingman Alpha Diallo, but he has struggled since the Villanova game and Providence has not found anyone to pick up the slack. While the points have still come for Diallo, the New York native has shot only 40.3% from the floor and 32.4% from three since the team’s loss to Villanova. Center Nate Duncan remains Providence’s only interior threat, scoring 10.9 points per game and collecting 5.3 rebounds, but he can go long stretches without making an impact. Promising freshman David Duke continues to struggle shooting the ball and running the offense, while freshman A.J. Reeves has returned from injury but struggled, averaging just 4.8 points on 26.7% shooting in five games. He’s still re-acclimating himself to the rigors of being a Division I basketball player, because he’s shown—especially before injury—that he has the ability to be an impact freshman and one of the top scorers for an offensively inconsistent Providence squad.

Villanova should be able to make life difficult on Providence on the defensive end, and even if Providence holds Villanova’s three point shooting in check, the Wildcats should have several avenues they can take to get the win. Stopping Providence should be straightforward, especially now that Villanova has shifted into gear defensively. The Wildcats are allowing just 63.2 points per game over their last five and holding opposition to just 43.2% shooting. The patented Villanova switching defense, which relies heavily on trust, has made life hard for opponents and it should work wonders Wednesday.

On offense, Villanova will have to get back to making shots from the outside. The Wildcats have not shot better than 31.0% from three since their win at Depaul, and more cold shooting will play into Providence’s aggressive defense. If the shots don’t go down, look for Villanova to be aggressive on the offensive glass, as the Friars rank just 215th in offensive rebound rate allowed despite holding Villanova to just six in their first meeting.

This could get too close for comfort if the Wildcats are cold again from deep, but Villanova should have plenty of weaknesses to exploit at home against a Providence team that struggles to score. Expect the Wildcats to get back to winning ways Wednesday.