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Villanova Basketball 2023-24 game preview: Providence Friars

The ‘Cats will try to shake off their five-game slump at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering another heartbreaking defeat on Tuesday, the Villanova Wildcats will look to regroup against the Providence Friars.

Villanova was caught in an early 20-point hole, came back to take the lead against Marquette, before going on to lose 85-80 in its previous outing. The ‘Cats are amid their longest losing streak since 2011 and enter Sunday with an 11-10 record and a 4-6 mark in Big East play.

As for Providence, it remains a scrappy team since getting hit hard by a season-ending injury to standout Bryce Hopkins. The Friars have started to find a groove again, countering a four-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak. They recently lost a physical battle at UConn in a game where neither team led by double figures and the referees called a season-high 48 fouls.

The Friars will try to restart their winning streak and enter with a 14-7 record and 5-5 showing in Big East play.

Can the Wildcats stop the bleeding? Sunday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET at the Wells Fargo Center.

Rock Fight

Hopefully it won’t be a 48-foul experience like Providence-UConn was on Wednesday night, but it will definitely be a hard-fought battle.

The Friars have regrouped from the loss of Hopkins by remaining focused on the defensive end. They were able to hang tight against UConn thanks to their effort on that side of the game, limiting the Huskies to a 43.6 eFG% as a team. It was only the second time this season that the No. 3-ranked offense was held below 45.0 eFG%.

Villanova and Providence have had some great battles since conference realignment and even though Kim English is the new coach, that strong defensive intensity remains.

The Friars boast the eighth-most efficient defense in the country, according to KenPom. They’re solid at guarding the perimeter, limiting opponents to shooting just 31.3% (49th in Division I) from long range and 43.9% inside the arc (12th in Division I).

The Wildcats have had their lapses on the defensive end as of late, but overall this season, that has been their strength. They’ll need to get back on track, as they haven’t been the same defensively since that 66-65 loss to UConn at home on Jan. 20.

They’ll need to crack this hard-nosed Providence defense.

Dynamic Duo

With Hopkins out of commission, Devin Carter and Josh Oduro have carried most of the offensive duties for the Friars.

They’ve accounted for nearly half of their team’s points in each of the last three games. Against UConn, they combined for 40 of their game’s 65 points.

Carter is an all-around threat, averaging 18.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, while shooting 48.1% overall and 35.9% from deep.

As for Oduro, he’s averaging 15.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game this year. He’s mostly an interior threat and is shooting 56.5% overall.

These two will be focal points to stop defensively for the ‘Cats.

Also watch out for Jayden Pierre and Davonte ‘Ticket’ Gaines.

Jayden Pierre had a quiet outing against UConn due to foul trouble, but before that he scored in double figures in five of the last six games.

As for Gaines, he’s hit-or-miss, but when he’s on, he can be a problem from long range. The George Mason transplant had a slow start through the first six games of the year, but he’s picked things up through conference play. Gaines is shooting 37.1% from three-point range against Big East opponents. He’s knocked down five or more 3-pointers on four separate occasions, including as recent as last week’s 67-63 win over Seton Hall.

Providence may leave points off the board

The Friars have struggled at the free-throw line this season. Unlike the ‘Cats, who have the nation’s best free-throwing shooting percentage, Providence has only converted on 68.9% of foul shots (280th).

Against UConn on Wednesday, it was 13-of-26 (50.%) from the line in a closely-contested game.

In the two games before that, they went a combined 39-of-44 (88.1%) against Seton Hall and Georgetown, but throughout the year, they’ve shot below 70% as a team from the free-throw line in 12 out of 21 games.