Ben Bentil's importance to Providence was evident in a surprising win over Villanova two weeks ago, and perhaps more so in a stunning loss last time out.
With their star forward's status in doubt, the No. 11 Friars attempt to bounce back from a defeat as they host a third-ranked Wildcats team intent on avenging its lone Big East loss in Saturday's rematch.
The Friars were flying high after snapping Villanova's 22-game conference winning streak with a thrilling 82-76 overtime victory in Philadelphia on Jan. 24. That signature win has been followed by two losses in a three-game stretch, including Tuesday's 77-70 defeat at DePaul in which Bentil - the Big East leader at 19.7 points per game -sat out the second half with a sprained right ankle.
Bentil missed Thursday's practice and is listed as day-to-day. The sophomore did not miss a game after spraining his left ankle against Boston College on Dec. 9.
''He's sore, he's very, very sore,'' coach Ed Cooley said. ''Negative X-rays, so that's a good sign. We'll see how he is after all the treatments.''
Providence (18-5, 6-4) should be keeping its fingers crossed as Bentil and dynamic point guard Kris Dunn have accounted for nearly half of its 1,700 points. With the former sidelined and Jalen Lindsey out with an illness, the Friars shot 30.3 percent in the second half against the Blue Demons and were outscored 42-26 in the paint.
"We're already short on size. Ben going out, Jalen going out - we're a totally different group," Cooley said.
The Friars' chances for a season sweep of Villanova (19-3, 9-1) figure to be greatly enhanced if Bentil does play, especially with Wildcats center Daniel Ochefu expected to miss a third straight game with a concussion. Bentil was a major factor in last month's win, scoring 10 of his 31 points in OT and tying a career high with 13 rebounds.
"He's such a force that if you did anything less than prepare fully for him being 100 percent it's going to hurt you," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "He just killed us in every way."
With the Friars last in the Big East in 3-point percentage, they'll likely need to rely on their strong defense to pull off another win if Bentil's out. They scored 20 points off 16 Wildcats turnovers in the first meeting, with Dunn - second in the country with 3.14 steals per game - recording four along with 13 points and 14 assists.
Providence is holding opponents to 25.9 percent 3-point shooting in Big East play, a challenge for a Villanova team that's been perimeter-dependent with Ochefu sidelined. The Wildcats were 9 of 31 from beyond the arc in the teams' last matchup.
Villanova is coming off its best outside shooting performance, though, going 16 of 29 on 3s in Wednesday's 83-58 rout of Creighton. Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson each went 4 of 6 while scoring 22 and 16 points, respectively.
"I just feel like we're getting a better rhythm offensively," Wright said after Villanova's 11th win in 12 games. "It just felt like we moved the ball and made the right decisions against Creighton. We didn't turn the ball over as much."
Darryl Reynolds added a career-high 13 rebounds starting in Ochefu's place. The Wildcats, first in the Big East in scoring defense at 61.1 points and field-goal percentage defense at 38.2, slowed down a Bluejays team that entered averaging 81.7 points.