Two of the strongest teams in the Big East square off on Wednesday night when No. 16 Xavier plays host to 17th-ranked Providence in Cincinnati.
Xavier (17-5, 9-2 Big East) enters the game tied for first in the conference but is coming off an 84-67 loss at Creighton on Saturday. The Friars (17-5, 9-2) also sit atop the conference, alongside the Musketeers and Marquette.
After winning a hard-fought game on the road at UConn on Wednesday, the road-weary Musketeers suffered their worst loss of the season just days later. Xavier’s first four losses were by a combined 14 points; Saturday’s setback against the Bluejays eclipsed that at 17 points.
Xavier opened the season with its best-ever start in Big East play, winning its first seven conference games under head coach Sean Miller, who returned to the school before this season after spending 12 at Arizona. Miller previously coached Xavier from 2004-09.
But after that hot start, the Musketeers played a stretch of three of four games on the road — a stretch that saw Xavier lose at DePaul and Creighton.
“Every schedule has its pockets where you know it’s gonna be tough,” Miller said. “I knew, not from an excuse perspective, playing at UConn, playing at Creighton, and the travel and the quick turnaround that it was going to be a tall order. And we lost to a better team (Saturday).”
The two losses have dropped Xavier to 16th in the country from a season-best eighth two weeks earlier.
Providence, the defending Big East regular-season champion, is coming off a close 70-65 road win over Villanova on Sunday.
The Friars have won three straight — all in conference play — since dropping games at Creighton and Marquette in mid-January.
“I thought it was an incredible team win,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “I thought it was a character win. I thought it was a physical, culture win.”
The last two meetings between Providence and Xavier in Cincinnati were decided by a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Jared Bynum hit the game-winner last season for Providence, while Xavier’s Colby Jones hit a game-winner in 2021.
Bynum scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half on Sunday and is just five points from the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
“He showed a lot of emotional maturity, mental maturity,” Cooley said of Bynum. “Was able to gut through the little bit of pain he was in. That was a person who willed his team.”
Xavier leads the nation in assists per game at 20.7 while standing second in the conference and fifth in the nation in overall field goal percentage (50.2 percent). The Musketeers are also first in the Big East and fifth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (39.9 percent) while leading the Big East in offense, averaging 83.2 points per game.
Bryce Hopkins leads Providence in scoring (16.4 points per game) and rebounding (9.1 rebounds per game). Hopkins has posted double-doubles in three of his last five games and has eight on the season.
Providence is first in the Big East in rebounding margin, grabbing nine more rebounds per game than its opponents.
–Field Level Media