Dee Davis SR (6-0, 170) vs Kris Dunn SO (6-3, 205)
Dunn is a long and athletic guard in the mold of a Semaj Christon type player. He missed all of last season because of injury and started off this season slow, but ever since the Kentucky game on November 30 he's been playing like one of the best guards in the conference. He's averaging 14.2 points per game and also has the highest assist rate in the nation, averaging 7.6 dimes per game. He has tremendous burst and enough length to make it a nightmare to keep him out of the lane even despite the fact that he's not an outside shooter (29% 3PT). This isn't the easiest matchup for Davis because Dunn is a tremendous athlete and has good size, but we've seen him battle pretty well against other talented guards over the last few years. While his defense against Dunn will be important, the Musketeers really need him to bring it offensively for the whole game. They can't afford for Davis to have a sluggish first half laced with turnovers and indecision on the road the way he did against Marquette at Cintas Saturday. They need him to play the way he did during the second half for the full 40 minutes. Also, breaking out of his current 8-for-31 (25.8%) shooting slump from 3-point range would be a nice lift, especially if Providence plays a lot of zone.
Moderate Edge Providence
Remy Abell JR (6-4, 194) vs LaDontae Henton SR (6-6, 215)
Henton is just a bad man. He's the leading scorer in the Big East at 21.1 points per game, with a season-high of 38 against Notre Dame on November 23. He also averages 5.4 rebounds per game and is aggressive on the offensive glass. The Friars love to get him the ball in the high post and let him go to work in an isolation situation. Xavier doesn't have a great defensive answer for him, so expect to see them try a lot of this on offense and force X to either over-extend on help side or let Buckets go to work one-on-one from 10-12 feet out. Henton is skilled, athletic and his body control is tremendous when trying to finish in the lane. Abell will probably give the Musketeers their best chance of slowing Henton down. His lateral quickness, on the ball defense and strength should be able to keep the Big East's best scorer from completely taking over on the offensive end. Abell will definitely have to make sure he gets a body on Henton and keeps him off the offensive glass, something he's struggled with at times this year. Abell seems to be in a very positive state of mind and has responded well to the recent challenges set forth by the coaching staff. He didn't start against Marquette, but played 33 minutes in the game including the entire second half. His 15 points and clutch 3-point shooting was crucial to Xavier's comeback in the second half. He needs to keep the positive momentum from that second half and a good week of practice rolling into Thursday's road game.
Moderate Edge Providence
Trevon Bluiett FR (6-6, 215) vs Jalen Lindsey FR (6-7, 195)
Lindsey is a long and versatile wing/forward that possesses a lot raw ability. While his size and athleticism easily allowed him to get on the court right away for the Friars and make an impact as a versatile defender, his offensive game is still raw and he hasn't figured out how to turn all of his physical tools into production on that end yet. Nearly 80 percent of his shot attempts have come from 3-point range where he's shooting 32.2 percent on the year. He's averaging 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game. Lately, he's been a little more active on the boards, hauling in five rebounds in each of the last two games. X will especially have to get a body on him on the offensive glass. He had three offensive rebounds and two stickbacks in the Friars' last game against Creighton. Assuming Bluiett is matched up with Lindsey, it will make for an interesting freshman battle between two players that have opposite strengths and weaknesses. Bluiett still hasn't gotten his shot going again from the outside (0-3 vs Marquette), but he has continued to play hard and has worked to find points in other ways such as getting to the free-throw line or offensive rebounding.He had seven points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists on Saturday.
Slight Edge Xavier
Jalen Reynolds SO (6-10, 232) vs Ben Bentil FR (6-8, 230)
Bentil is a strong and athletic post player with enough skill to face up and knock down a jump shot. He managed to take the starting spot away from junior Tyler Harris following the Stony Brook game in mid-December, but still battles some consistency issues and Harris actually averages more minutes than he does. However, his motor and toughness have been a big boost for Providence after graduating Kadeem Batts off of last year's Big East championship team. He's averaging 4.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game. Reynolds is included in this starting lineup because who knows what it's going to be at this point but he's been seeing more minutes as the season has gone on (averaging 20.8 mpg in Big East play), he wore the Musketeers' gold jersey in practice this week and he's a good match-up for Bentil. Xavier might need to look to get Reynolds more involved offensively, as he's shooting 67.6 percent from the field during Big East play but has only taken more than six shots twice. He scored four points (2-2 FG) and had eight rebounds WITH NO FOULS against Marquette on Saturday.
Slight Edge Xavier
Matt Stainbrook SR (6-10, 270) vs Carson Desrosiers SR (7-0, 250)
Last year, Desrosiers didn't impress me much. He only scored a combined four points in 51 minutes in the two games against Xavier. However, he looks like a new player this year as a starter that averages 7.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in 25.3 minutes per game. The big man is a physical rebounder on both ends of the court that gets a lot of points off of putbacks, and he's also shown some ability to score with his back to the basket when the Friars throw the ball to him in the post. He can face up and hit a mid-range jumper and he'll even hoist the occasional three (5-8 3PT). He's most impressive on the defensive end where he provides his team with a legit rim protector that can move fairly well laterally. Stainbrook deserves credit for the way he's been playing offensively lately. He's been more assertive, more physical and yet has still managed to be a great passer. He scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and had four assists against Marquette on Saturday. Last year, Stainbrook saw a lot of Desrosiers in two games against the Friars and his length seemed to bother the Musketeers' center a bit as he finished just 10-for-27 (37%) combined from the field in those games. X needs a big game on both ends of the court from its senior leader if its going to pull off the win.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Providence Bench
Junior forward Tyler Harris (6-9, 223) is the Friars' sixth man but he plays starter-like minutes at 28.6 per game. He's a thin and skilled face-up forward that is Providence's biggest 3-point threat (35.4%). Kyron Cartwright (5-11, 185) is a speedy freshman point guard that makes plays in transition and is pesky on the ball. The other Friars that see some minutes are freshman center Paschal Chukwu (7-2, 226) and sophomore wing Junior Lomomba (6-5, 200). Both average 9.0 minutes per game. Chukwu is raw but can get in the game and eat up some minutes in the zone while grabbing a rebound and blocking a shot. Lomomba is a good athlete that plays hard but lacks skill and gets out of control at times. Xavier's bench outscored Marquette's bench 33-3 on Saturday thanks to the fact that the Musketeers' two leading scorers, Remy Abell (15) and Myles Davis (14), didn't start. While J.P. Macura is playing hard in games and at practice, it would be a little surprising to see him start again after playing nine minutes in the first half against Marquette only to never see the floor again after turning it over twice. Also, it will be interesting to see if Brandon Randolph has any role in this game. After not playing for two straight games, he played four minutes against Marquette on Saturday.
Slight Edge Xavier
Providence will mix it up between man-to-man or zone on the defensive end. If they go zone against the Musketeers, X has to make them pay by hitting outside shots against the packed in 2-3. The Friars do not typically extend their defense out to apply ball pressure or trap the way Marquette did. On paper, this is an intriguing matchup with Xavier's elite offense (ninth in the country in offensive efficiency) going up against Providence's pedestrian defense (85th), and the Friars' solid offense (48th) going up against the Musketeers' struggling defense (125th). In addition, Providence ranks 236th in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (32%) while Xavier ranks 263rd in 3-point percentage defense (36.1%). Like against most teams with a big-time scoring wing, Xavier doesn't have a great defensive answer for LaDontae Henton and adding Dunn to the mix makes for a scary combination - it will be interesting to see what the Musketeers do defensively. Xavier (27th) is ranked 26 spots higher than Providence (53rd) in KenPom's rankings, but the Friars (23rd) are 11 spots above the Musketeers (34th) in the RPI. Until X proves it can put forth a winning effort on the road, it's hard to see them pulling a game like this off.