Providence ranks second in the Big East in scoring offense, but second-to-last in scoring defense, allowing more than 73 points per game. The Friars have attempted a league-high 1,677 shots (43 percent) as well as a league-leading 559 from long-range (14th of 16 league teams at 30.1 percent).
A win tonight would give Notre Dame 11 conference wins for the third time in its last five seasons (including an 11-5 mark in 2007 before the league expanded its schedule to 18 games).
No. 9 Notre Dame at Providence
Notre Dame (21-5/10-4) – Had a seven-game winning streak snapped Saturday at West Virginia; it was the team's fourth road conference loss (Syracuse, Marquette, St. John's, WVA). An additional loss in Louisville to Kentucky serves as the only non-conference blemish.
Providence (14-13/3-11) – The Friars have lost four straight and five of six after registering back-to-back upset wins over #15 Louisville and #7 Villanova.
Tip-off: 7:00 EST (ESPN3 and DirecTV channels 639 and 640)
Previous Meeting: Notre Dame blew out Providence in South Bend, 93-78 in the 2010 Big East season opener. In a defense-optional contest for the Friars, Tim Abromaitis and Jonathan Peoples combined to hit 10 of 13 three-point shots (Peoples 5-5 in the first half) and Ben Hansbrough recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists. Peoples led the Irish with 23 points, all in the first half.
Series history: The Irish lead the all-time series 14-9 including wins in the last seven dating back to February 2005. Notre Dame hasn't lost in Rhode Island since 1998 and hasn't scored fewer than 81 points vs. the Friars over the last six matchups.
Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's, Cincinnati, Marquette, at Pittsburgh, Louisville)
Providence: (Alabama, Louisville, Villanova)
Quote to Note: "We didn't defend as well, we didn't concentrate as well, we didn't chase down loose balls as well and it made them believe and their crowd believe." – Irish head coach Mike Brey after Saturday's double-digit road defeat at West Virginia
Point Spread: Notre Dame -3.5
Meet the FriarsThird-year head coach Keno Davis features a three-guard lineup with three sophomores and a freshman augmenting talented senior Marshon Brooks. Brooks is the league's leading scorer (2nd nationally) at 24.4 ppg. The junior swingman is a consistent point producer inside the arc, converting on better than 48 percent of his 312 two-point field goal attempts. Brooks' accuracy has waned from long range – he's a 31 percent shooter that's chucked 166 three-point shots (second in the conference) this season.
Brooks, who's also sixth in the conference with 7.4 boards per game, is a true high-volume shooter, attempting 20 or more shots in six league games including three of the last four. He's yet to attempt fewer than 14 shots in a conference game this season. The Stone Mountain, GA product erupted for 43 points and 10 boards in a two-point loss at Georgetown earlier this month. He's hit for at least 25 points in each of the team's three games since.
Sophomore point guard Vincent Council ranks first in the Big East with 6.2 assists per contest. He's second to Brooks on the Friars at 13.2 ppg while corralling more than four boards per contest despite his 6'2" 180-pound frame. Council is a terror off the dribble but he's slumped of late, missing 17 consecutive shots in losses at Georgetown (0-10) and UConn (0-7). The Brooklyn native has hit for 50 percent in just one Big East contest this season and has connected on just 34 percent of his offerings to date.
Sophomore center Bilal Dixon leads the team with 6.6 boards per game. Dixon's minutes and numbers are down after a solid freshman season in 2009-10, and the Jersey City native has reached double figures in points and rebounds (both vs. Seton Hall) just once since the league opener. The 6'8" 230-pounder has struggled mightily from the charity stripe, converting just over 45 percent this season.
Joining Dixon on the front line is redshirt-freshman forward Kadeem Batts. The 6'8" 235-pound Batts produced his best effort in more than a month in Saturday's overtime loss to Cincinnati, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 boards. Guard Duke Mondy rounds out the starting five. The sophomore has hit for 19 and 17 points over his last four outings and has totaled 19 steals during his previous six contests.
Davis, the 2008 National Coach of the Year while at Drake, features a seven-man rotation with lefty shooting guard Gerald Coleman and freshman guard Bryce Cotton coming off the bench. Coleman ranks third on the squad in scoring (9.9) while logging more than 28 minutes per night. Cotton's an athlete with an unorthodox shot who generally chips in 10-14 minutes per game, though he recently earned 35 minutes of court time in a loss at Connecticut.
Potential pitfall: The Friars are the league's worst defensive rebounding team. They've managed the fewest number of assists (and rank 14th in the more telling assist-to-turnover ratio). They're the league's worst free throw shooting team; it's second worst collection of marksmen from beyond the arc, and the third-worst shooting unit overall.
Yet Notre Dame, at 10-4 in league play, fresh off a seven-game winning streak, and with a win at Pittsburgh among its three conference road victories in seven tries, is favored by less than four points tonight at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
The potential for an upset exists, as Providence has upended Top 15 foes Louisville and Villanova as well as SEC contender Alabama in Rhode Island this season. If its offense is clicking, the Friars can produce 80-plus points on a given night.
Tonight's contest likely hinges upset on the Friar's ability to hurt the Irish with a high volume of three-point shots – Notre Dame allows a league-worst 38 percent from down town – and of course, the possibility that Tyrone Nash, Ben Hansbrough, et al, are unable to control the league's leading scorer, Brooks.
The Irish have yet to incur a "bad loss" this season – a fact that will bode well for them with the NCAA Selection Committee two weeks from Sunday. Dropping a decision at The Dunk tonight, however, would qualify as a bad loss, as would Saturday's home contest vs. Seton Hall.
Veteran teams dispatch of freshmen and sophomore-laden crews like that from Providence. If the Irish are to remain in the consideration for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and possibly more important, hold onto second place and an ensuing two-game bye in the heavily-weighted conference tourney in early March, they must put down Providence tonight.
Prediction: Notre Dame 84 Providence 75
Season Predictions (Big East and major conference foes): 15-5; 12-7-1 against the spread.