Cotton is the leading force on this Providence team, and a volume scorer averaging 20.3 points per game. He's scored in double-figures in every game this season so far except for one. What really makes him tough to guard is his ridiculous quickness with the ball in his hands. He's very difficult to guard one-on-one, and then he forces your defense to collapse on him in the lane, where he's an adept passer and scorer, capable of making tough shots despite his size. He's only a 32.2 percent shooter from three, but he attempts a lot of them, and he seems to have a knack for making big shots when it counts. Xavier is fortunate to have Davis for match-ups like this. While most of his tougher assignments have called for him to defend physically bigger and stronger shooters, this one will test his ability to move laterally and keep a super-quick opponent out of the lane. He will do his job, but it's going to have to be a disciplined team effort to truly slow down Cotton, as no one can keep him out of the lane without gap help from teammates. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the attention required on the defensive end might take away from Davis' offensive value, but his recent play would suggest otherwise. He shot the ball well against Butler and Georgetown and was a big reason the Musketeers' made their runs in the second halves of those games all while guarding Kellen Dunham and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. As usual, X doesn't necessarily need him to score, but if Davis can knock down an open shot or two when the defense is trying to collapse on Christon/Stainbrook and run the offense smoothly, he'll be playing his role perfectly.
Moderate Edge Providence
Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs Josh Fortune So (6-5, 205)
Fortune is a sophomore that's being thrust into a role that he isn't truly ready for at this point. He's got good size for a guard, and he's proven to be a better than advertised defender, but he hasn't been much of a threat offensively. He's also proven to be turnover prone at times, including coughing it up four times last game against Butler. He has had a few recent performances where he's shown signs that things might be starting to click a little bit. He had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the 70-52 win over Georgetown, and had 10 points, five boards and two assists in the 81-68 win over Creighton. With the Friars having three known quantities in Cotton, Henton and Harris pretty much every night, the play of Fortune (along with Kadeem Batts) has seemingly become somewhat of an x-factor for them. If Xavier were to win, one would kind of expect this match-up to be the Friars' downfall. They might not put Fortune on Christon or they may decide to zone X, but regardless they don't have much of an answer for X's best player. With the way he's playing, and after what we saw him do to DePaul in the first half at the Allstate Center, it'd be a surprise if Christon didn't have another big scoring performance.
Significant Edge Xavier
Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs LaDontae Henton Jr (6-6, 215)
Henton, who was originally committed to play for Brian Gregory at Dayton, is a tough, gritty player with good athleticism and size that makes a lot happen for the Friars on both ends of the court. He's actually the most dangerous shooter on the team, as he's attempted the third most threes on the year (61), and he's shooting by far the highest percentage (39.3) out of the guys who regularly attempt threes for the Friars. He's a good rebounder, and a playmaker on the defensive end that leads the team in steals. This should be a great match-up as these guys are doing a lot of things similar right now for their teams. They're making plays at both ends, knocking down shots, rebounding the ball well, and providing double-digit scoring for their teams on a regular basis. Henton is more important to Providence's success than Martin is to Xavier's, so if these guys are able to cancel each other out that definitely plays into X's favor.
Slight Edge Providence
Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 237) vs Tyler Harris So (6-9, 215)
Harris is a slender, stretch combo forward that has become a consistent scorer in his second year of play, after sitting out a year following the transfer from North Carolina State where he played in a limited role as a freshman. He averages 13.1 points per game on a balanced diet of shots at the rim, from the mid-range and beyond the arc, and he has the highest effective field-goal percentage on the team. He's just a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range, but willing to shoot it and dangerous if left open. Harris is mostly just a scorer. He's not a very good defender, though he does get some deflections and steals, and he's just an average rebounder, but capable of getting second-chance buckets on the offensive end, because he's hard to box out. Philmore is coming off of two very strong performances in the wins over Georgetown and DePaul. With Stainbrook not scoring as much, he's played off of the big man and picked up the slack on offense, scoring 14 points and grabbing five boards against Georgetown, and putting up 13 points and hauling in seven rebounds against DePaul. When the Friars are playing this lineup with Harris and Henton in at the three and four, Xavier should be able to gain an advantage in the paint with their power post players. For that reason, Ed Cooley may elect to play Kadeem Batts and Carson Desrosiers together more than he typically does to match-up with Philmore and Stainbrook's strength.
Slight Edge Xavier
Matt Stainbrook Jr (6-10, 263) vs Kadeem Batts Sr (6-9, 245)
Batts is a strong forward with some athleticism and good touch from the mid-range. Overall his numbers, though slightly down from his junior year, are still pretty strong at 12.9 points per game and 7.5 boards. He can be a difference-maker on the glass at both ends, but especially on the offensive end where he gets a lot of putbacks. Consistency has still been an issue for the big man in his senior year. He was 3-for-14 from the field in the loss to UK, 4-for-14 in the loss to UMass, and 1-for-8 in the loss to Seton Hall. He's also had some so-so outings in the Friars' close-calls this season. It seems he lets his offense impact the rest of his game at times, so shutting him down early is going to be important. However, it's worth noting that he's scored in double figures for the last five games since that poor performance against Seton Hall, including a 14 point, 17 rebound effort against Butler. Stainbrook hasn't been scoring nearly as much lately. He had just seven against Marquette, seven against Georgetown and six against DePaul, but he's had eight or more rebounds and three or more assists in the last four games. Even without him scoring, the Musketeers have continued to run their offense through him, and he's been able to make his teammates better. He had a season-high six assists in the Georgetown game. Going up against Batts, he going to have an advantage on the block if he's able to finish strong through contact without relying on the refs. There's a good chance we see a lot of 7-footer Carson Desrosiers off the bench to go against Stainbrook as well.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Providence Bench
Providence's depth is very limited. Desrosiers is the sixth-man, averaging 19.6 minutes per game, and he's the only real significant contributor. Lee Goldsbrough, a 6-9, 230-pound forward, and Ted Bancroft, a 6-6, 215 pound wing provide some depth, but both average just seven minutes and less than a point per game. The Musketeers' starters have been playing so well that the bench's role has understandably decreased. James Farr continues to provide an offensive spark off the bench and depth in the post, and Brandon Randolph has played with a little more energy the last two games after being held scoreless for three straight contests. He had eight against DePaul. The Musketeers will be alright in this game if Erik Stenger or Jalen Reynolds are forced into action in the post. They can both hang with Providence up front. Also, Myles Davis is always an x-factor, as he's been in a bit of a slump and has played less recently, but can always be a game-changer with his shooting ability.
Significant Edge Xavier
The Friars play at a relatively slow pace and they aren't known for their offensive firepower, but their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers are good and not far off Xavier's. Rebounding is going to be a huge part of this game. Providence ranks first in the conference in rebound percentage (54.4%), but X is third at (54.1%). They rank first and second respectively in offensive rebounding percentage as well, so second-chance points will be a big factor. We've seen the Musketeers wear some of their opponents down already this season, and that could very well be the case in this one as Providence is very short-handed after losing point guard Kris Dunn to an injury and a pair of freshman to suspension. Four out of the Friars' five starters average double-figures, but all five also play more than 70% of the available minutes. Providence ranks 348th in the country in bench minutes, with just 18.6 percent of the minutes going to reserves; Xavier ranks 99th with 34 percent of available minutes going to its bench. If Xavier had struggled to score at Creighton or at DePaul, this game would feel a lot more like a road loss for the Musketeers. However, they've looked like the same team, and in some ways a better team, on the road in the Big East so far, and if both of these teams play to their potential, Xavier is better. Christon is a match-up problem for the Friars, the Musketeers' bigs will wear them down inside without a monster effort from Batts and Desrosiers, and the Musketeers depth off the bench will help at all positions. The teams that have given the Musketeers' trouble are the teams that can really shoot the ball and stretch the floor, particularly with their bigs. Providence is a poor shooting team. Bryce Cotton is good enough to carry his team to a win, but X gets the slight nod.
Score Prediction: Xavier 77 Providence 74