Xavier-Providence Preview

Publish date:

Providence would love to kick back for a few days and relish a week that saw it take down two ranked opponents, including a top-five team on the road.

That's not the way the Big East works right now.

The 10th-ranked Friars will be right back at it Tuesday night looking for another signature victory as they welcome No. 7 Xavier for the first top-10 matchup in the history of the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

Providence (17-3, 5-2) had lost two of three - both at home to unranked teams - before hosting then-No. 18 Butler last Tuesday and closing on an 11-4 run to beat the Bulldogs 71-68.

The Friars came up with a more impressive win in Philadelphia on Sunday. Ben Bentil had 31 points and 13 rebounds while Kris Dunn finished with 13 points, 14 assists and four steals in an 82-76 overtime victory over then-No. 4 Villanova.

"This is an unbelievable win for us," coach Ed Cooley said.

No longer is Villanova the lone powerhouse it was for the first two years of the new-look Big East. Providence's jump from No. 16 on Monday gave the conference three teams in the top 10, while Creighton and Georgetown - the latter of which the Friars visit Saturday - are also 5-2 within the conference.

"This Big East Conference is a bear," Cooley said. "You have to knuckle up every game and make sure you're detailed and disciplined."

Providence is in the AP Poll for a ninth straight week for the first time since 1977-78, and this clash with Xavier (17-2, 5-2) will be the first between top-10 teams at its downtown home since the arena opened in 1972.

It's hard to find a bigger reason than Bentil, who's averaged 23 points and 9 rebounds over his last eight games. Dunn, meanwhile, is on pace to become the first college player in at least 20 years to average 17 points, 7 assists and 6 boards.

A far cry from the top-heavy production of college basketball's best 1-2 punch are the Musketeers, who are led in scoring by Trevon Bluiett (15.4 points per game) and then have five others averaging between 8.5 and 11.3.

James Farr was the latest from that deep group of secondary scorers to step up, putting up a career-high 24 with 15 rebounds Saturday in an 84-76 win over Seton Hall.

"I'm a senior, my days here are ticking down," Farr said. "I want to make sure I go out on the right note."

As impressive as Bentil and Dunn have been, Xavier should have a few edges over a Providence team that's ninth in effective field-goal percentage (48.7) in the 10-team Big East. The Friars' 3-point percentage (31.1) is 71st of the 75 major conference teams - the Musketeers are at 36.1 - and Xavier's plus-9.6 rebound differential more than doubles any other team in the league and is 7.4 ahead of Providence (plus-2.2).

The Musketeers are sixth among major conference teams in free-throw attempts (26.5 per game), and the Friars let their opponent shoot at least 24 in each of their losses.

Xavier's opponent shot above 50 percent in both of its losses.

These teams have split four meetings since the Musketeers joined the league, with each winning twice at home. Dunn had 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in Providence's 69-66 overtime victory last season, while Bluiett and Jalen Reynolds had 19 apiece in Xavier's 78-69 win in Cincinnati.