#7 Texas A&M Aggies vs. #10 Providence Friars
Friday (3/16) 12:15p EST, CBS
Overall in NCAA Tournament History, the 7-10 match-up in the first round has been really close. 7-seeds are 95-61 (60.9%) all-time against 10-seeds. In the past 5 NCAA Tournaments, 10-seeds are 6-14 against the 7-seeds in the first round with the most recent victory being #10 Wichita State over #7 Dayton in last year’s tournament. As are all of the 7-10 match-ups this year, this match-up between Texas A&M and Providence should be a very interesting game, especially late in the second half!
Texas A&M Aggies (20-12) (9-9) – SEC
After upsetting West Virginia by 23 in Germany on opening night, Texas A&M started their season 11-1 heading into SEC play with their only loss being to Arizona on a neutral court. The Aggies were an early season favorite to make the Final Four this season, but then dropped 7 of their next 9 games. The Aggies have had a very streaky and up-and-down year, but they made the tournament and have won 3 of their last 4 games entering the tournament. Texas A&M has not played a game since losing to Alabama on March 8, due to a buzzer-beater by Collin Sexton that knocked them out of the SEC Tournament. The Aggies are a really good basketball team when they are knocking down shots and have a handful of guys they can rely on, but they turn the ball over a lot and are a poor free-throw shooting team, which could hurt them late in this match-up against Providence.
Robert Williams has not lived up to all the hype he was drawing at the start of the season, but has put together a very solid season for the Aggies and they will need a great game out of him to beat Providence. Williams leads the team in rebounds and blocked shots, but tends to get in foul trouble a lot, averaging 2.2 personal fouls per game. In this match-up against Providence, Robert Williams, along with Tyler Davis will have their handsful trying to beat the Friars on the boards. Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo will be all over the glass for the Friars, so Williams must play aggressive defensively. Over his past four games, Williams has averaged 5.3 PPG, which will not help Texas A&M against Providence. He must be an overall better player than he was finishing the season if Texas A&M wants to make it back to the second round of the tournament.
X-Factor: Must Limit Turnovers and Do Not Get In Foul Trouble
Texas A&M does not take care of the ball very well. The Aggies turn the ball over 13.6 times per game, which ranks 242 in the country. Providence is a great team running in transition and will make the Aggies pay for their mistakes. On the season, the Aggies average 16.8 personal fouls per game, and the combo of Robert Williams and Tyler Davis combine for an average 4.8 fouls per game. If these two get in foul trouble early on for the Aggies, Providence will have the advantage inside with Rodney Bullock and it will take an enormous amount of pressure off of their mid-range and long-range shooting.
Providence Friars (21-13) (10-8) – Big East
If you do not like watching Providence play with Coach Ed Cooley on the sideline, then you may not be a true basketball fan! Not only are they a very high-energy team that plays with a lot of emotion, but Ed Cooley also gets very animated, sometimes too much like when he ripped his pants in the Big East Championship game against Villanova! The Friars only have 1 victory in their past 6 trips to the NCAA Tournament, but this season offers a lot of hope for them. Providence matches up very well with Texas A&M who may be taller, but are extremely inconsistent and turnover prone. Providence is the type of team that capitalizes on running in transition and if Texas A&M is turning the ball over, the Friars may be able to feed off of this.
Player to Watch: Kyron Cartwright (11.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 38.4 3P%)
Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo are important pieces for Providence to succeed in the tournament, but Kyron Cartwright is their difference maker. In the Big East Tournament, Cartwright averaged 15.7 PPG and averaged just under 5 assists per game. In order for Providence to succeed and move the ball, the offensive will have to flow through Kyron Cartwright. The senior guard is coming off his best collegiate season of his career and arguably, playing his best basketball as of late. Texas A&M does not necessarily defend the guard position well, so Cartwright must create space on the court by drawing attention on the drive.
X-Factor: Disrupting the Passing Lanes and Taking Smart Shots
Playing against a team that turns the ball over a lot, Providence must continue to be a very active defensive team. They are not the best team when it comes to steals, but they do rank 88th in the country in steals per game, averaging 6.9 SPG. Using their length while defending on the wings, Providence should be able to lock down a lot of passes that should be going to the low-post for either Robert Williams or Tyler Davis. If Providence is able to do so, they will punish Texas A&M by out-running them in transition.It is also important that the Friars take smart shots. In the Big East Championship game, they did not use the shot-clock to their advantage and took a lot of quick shots, mostly from long-range. In the tournament, they must manage the shot-clock and take high percentage shots. Dribbling down to the offensive end of the court and immediately pulling up for a contested three is not a good shot for Providence compared to moving the ball around and getting it in the low post to Rodney Bullock.
Match-up to Watch: Robert Williams vs. Rodney Bullock
The low-post match-up of Williams vs. Bullock will be a great match-up to watch all day. Rodney Bullock has the ability to stretch the court and shoot from outside as well, so it should be interesting how Texas A&M defends Bullock on the outside and whether or not they keep Williams in the low-post. Robert Williams has two inches on Rodney Bullock and a slightly longer wingspan, so we can expect Robert Williams to win the low-post battles.
Prediction: #7 Texas A&M 67 #10 Providence 73
At the end of the day, I expect to see Ed Cooley and the Friars through to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The deciding factor for me is that Providence will be able to force a lot of turnovers against Texas A&M and match-up with them in the paint fairly well. Kyron Cartwright has be fantastic the past few games for Providence and I have a feeling this trend will continue. This year’s Providence team reminds me a lot of last year’s Xavier team which made it to the second weekend of the tournament. The Friars have veteran leadership in Cartwright and Bullock and have a lot of pieces that can contribute and score. There is something special with this Providence team this year and I feel like they will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.