Cotton exploded for 25 points and destroyed Xavier's defense the last time these teams met up with his dribble penetration. He hasn't slowed down since that game scoring 20 points at Marquette, 28 at DePaul and 32 at home against St. John's. He's incredibly quick and shifty with his handle, which made him a tough match-up for Davis last time. He also showed the ability to hit the three by going 3-for-8 from beyond the arc against the Musketeers' lacking perimeter defense. On his radio show Wednesday night, Mack said that the Musketeers will likely switch up defenders on Cotton, using Davis and Christon (and probably Randolph a time or two) to give him different looks. It will also be interesting to see if they mix in any other defenses to try to eliminate the effectiveness of his penetration at any point this time around. Davis has not been playing well during this losing skid, and it's no secret that they'll need him to play better to get back on track. His energy on defense is crucial, and his ability to run the offense confidently and without turning the ball over his hugely important to this team. He doesn't necessarily have to score, but he has to create plays for the offense, and knocking down the occasional open three definitely doesn't hurt. If X can get him playing closer to where he was in the first half of January as opposed to the way he finished the month, it will go along way towards getting a huge win on Saturday afternoon.
Moderate Edge Providence
Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs Josh Fortune So (6-5, 205)
Fortune hasn't been much of an offensive threat for most of the season, but last time against X he made plays on the offensive end for himself and his teammates. He was able to get free for a few jumpers to finish with # points, and also set his teammates up with four assists. Xavier's defense struggled on all fronts that game and let just about all of the Friars' starters find a rhythm and gain some confidence, especially in the case of Fortune. A huge part of it is containing Cotton so the defense doesn't have to collapse and give up as many open looks to let the secondary options gain confidence. If they can lock Fortune down early in the game, it's unlikely he'll be as effective as he was in the last meeting. Christon has been rather effective even during the losing streak, but his attention and effort on defense is going to be as important if not more in leading Xavier out of this skid. Christon has been putting up points with ease over the last 10 games, but the Musketeers rely on him for more than that. Last time against the Friars, he got off to a slow start before finishing with 18 points by becoming aggressive in the second half. This time around they can't afford the slow start, and they also need him to outplay or at least match Cotton's performance for Providence.
Significant Edge Xavier
Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs LaDontae Henton Jr (6-6, 215)
Henton was one of the big keys coming into the last game against Villanova but that didn't prevent him from imposing his will on the Musketeers to finish with 23 points and 11 rebounds, six of them being offensive. Keeping him off of the offensive glass is every team's goal coming into the game, but it's much easier said than done. It's a hard thing to admit but to a certain extent you have to plan on him getting some second effort points. The key is to make sure he doesn't get a few great looks from 3-point range that will give him a 20-plus point night. Martin was all the Musketeers had in the first half of the last meeting between these two teams. He finished with 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting while grabbing seven boards and dishing out two assists. In the first half, he was literally the Musketeers' only legitimate threat. He then struggled in the home loss to Seton Hall, but bounced back by shooting well at Villanova despite getting into foul trouble. If Martin comes up with the same type of effort this time around at the Cintas Center, it's hard to imagine that the Musketeers won't come out with a win. One other thing to watch is the fact that the Musketeers have a Saturday afternoon start. Martin started slow last week at home against Seton Hall on a Saturday afternoon, though that game tipped off at noon.
Slight Edge Providence
Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 237) vs Tyler Harris So (6-9, 215)
Harris is the exact type of forward that causes problems on the defensive end because of his perimeter face-up skills, and last time he exploited Xavier's weakness for 12 points. He's not much of a defender or a rebounder, but if he provides the Friars with the same type of offensive spark as he did last time then it becomes much tougher for Xavier to pull off the win. Philmore hasn't scored in double-figures in the last three games. He hasn't attempted a whole lot of shots, but still needs to be a more productive member of the offense as well as a better defender, especially against face-up guys like Harris. The Musketeers may try to go smaller more often with Martin playing the four and guarding Harris, but it's tough to give up size against a team that rebounds as well as Providence. The secondary match-ups like this one were a much bigger factor in the last game between these two teams than anyone expected.
Slight Edge Providence
Matt Stainbrook Jr (6-10, 263) vs Kadeem Batts Sr (6-9, 245)
Batts was a big part of the reason the Friars were able to impose their will on the Musketeers a few weeks ago. He plays aggressive and physical down low. Even if he doesn't get the offensive rebound, he's good at taking up a defender and even pushing him under the hoop some to help give guys like Henton and the rest of his teammates more opportunities for putbacks. After scoring 12 points and grabbing eight boards against Xavier, Batts scored four points against Marquette and DePaul in back-to-back games before bouncing back with a 15 point, 10 rebound effort in the loss to St. John's. Stainbrook had 11 points and nine rebounds last game against Batts and the rest of the Providence frontcourt, which isn't bad by any means, but this time around Xavier needs its big man to provide them with an edge.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Providence Bench
Neither one of these teams are getting much off of their bench at the moment. Providence literally doesn't have any depth at all and ranks 350th in the country in bench minutes. Xavier has some depth and plays those extra guys significant minutes, but they're not getting a whole lot of production right now. The last meeting between these two teams the Friars received two points off their bench from Carson Desrosiers. The 7-footer played 22 minutes in that game to help provide some length inside to bother Stainbrook and Philmore around the rim. Ted Bancroft, a 6-6 non-shooting wing, will also see limited minutes off of the bench. The Musketeers received 16 points off the bench last time around against the Friars from Jalen Reynolds (6), Myles Davis (6) and James Farr (4). Reynolds has not officially been reinstated to the team, but he's been practicing with them this week meaning there's a chance he may play in this one.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Last time around these two teams looked fairly evenly matched. Since then, neither one of them have played well with X dropping two in a row and Providence losing two out of three, at Marquette and at home against St. John's. Ed Cooley was not happy with his team's toughness or defensive intensity in that loss to St. John's, which is pretty much the same message that Chris Mack has given about his team. This game is hugely important for both teams, with not only third place in the Big East on the line, but it would also be a huge boost for either team's NCAA tournament hopes that are quickly slipping away. With it being one of only four remaining home games for X, and two of those are against Creighton and Villanova, this game is even more important to the Musketeers. Lose this one and they've got a really difficult road ahead that requires winning some tough games on the road and at the Cintas Center. This game is going to come down to whichever team comes out more locked in on the defensive end. Both of them present some individual match-up problems for each other, so help defense, rotating and recovering is going to be the key. If both teams play to their potential, which is tough to predict right now, Xavier is still slightly better, so I'm sticking with the same prediction as the first game.
Score Prediction: Xavier 77 Providence 74