Villanova has been the undisputed king of the Big East Conference for the past two seasons. They have won the regular season crown each of the last two years and won the tournament title at Madison Square Garden last year. They are once again undefeated at 7-0 and have already manhandled some of the league’s best teams, including Xavier and Butler. Providence has the opportunity on Sunday afternoon to shift the balance of power in the Big East.
The number one key for Providence is always Kris Dunn. He tends to play at two different levels: He can be an above-average defender and distributor and be a good impact player for the Friars. There have been many occasions, however, when Dunn has accelerated his game to a whole new level. He is aggressive at attacking the basket and makes flashy passes when the defense collapses on him. Dunn also effectively eliminates the other point guard from the game, forcing the other team to play four-against five and without their primary ball handler. It is at these times when Dunn has looked like he could win the National Player of the Year award. Unfortunately, Dunn hasn’t played at quite the same level in the Big East portion of the schedule. While many of his numbers look similar, one key statistic stands out. Dunn has turned the ball over 4.5 times per game in the Big East.
One turnover can change the outcome of a game, and averaging nearly five per game puts a team in jeopardy. One personal element of playing against Villanova should give Dunn extra motivation. He will be playing against his co-Big East MVP Ryan Arcidiacono and looking to distinguish his game from Arch’s. Dunn needs to take better care of the basketball and play at his superstar level for the Friars to have the chance to beat Villanova.
The pace of the game will likely determine the outcome. Villanova and Providence make up the two most defensively-efficient teams in the conference, so a slower paced-game would seem to favor the Friars considering their being on the road. Not so. Providence has traditionally struggled with scoring in the half-court against Villanova, and their best stretches of offense this season have come when they have pushed the pace. Villanova is extremely dangerous shooting the three from half-court sets and shoots it with so much frequency and success that it will be a necessity for the Friars to speed ‘Nova up. Dunn is always the best athlete on the floor, and Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba have improved offensively. This game won’t be in the 80s, but Providence will need to push the pace to score enough to stay in the game.
The intangibles and experience factor certainly favors ‘Nova. They are the established top-dogs and have no reason to think anyone in the conference can beat them. They always play well at home and remember last season’s drubbing of the Friars at the Pavilion. Jay Wright is a master motivator and tactician and won’t let the postponement to a Sunday afternoon serve as any distraction. All said, Providence will probably need an unbelievable effort from Kris Dunn and nearly flawless performances from Ben Bentil and company to win. Perfection isn’t necessary, but something close is.
Can they get it done? Of course they can, I’m a Providence writer. Friars 66, Villanova 64.
Providence is a team that has proven it is capable of going toe-to-toe with the Wildcats. They nearly knocked off ‘Nova in the Big East Semifinals a year ago and have arguably improved this year, having been ranked as high as the number eight team in the country. However, the Friars lack a signature win. Their victory on the road against Butler to kickoff the Big East schedule was impressive because of the way PC played down the stretch, but the Bulldogs have struggled this season and are in sixth place in the Big East. Beating Villanova would provide Providence the motivation and confidence needed to believe that they can win the Big East this year and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.