Providence Friars (14-6) at Villanova Wildcats (18-1)
Last night we missed badly when we backed West Virginia on the road at TCU. The Mountaineers were looking to take advantage of a short-handed TCU team playing without its best player in Jaylen Fisher. The Horned Frogs came out hot and stayed hot most of the afternoon, and were able to drop 82 points on a very good West Virginia defense. I thought that the Horned Frogs would shrivel up and die after losing Fisher and might even play themselves out of an appearance in the NCAA tournament this season.
I was dead wrong. This team played inspired basketball and protected their home court. It remains to be seen if the Horned Frogs can keep this level of intensity up the rest of the way, but with this huge win, it would seem their place in March is in stone at the moment. Good for Jaime Dixon and company for showing some heart and winning a game where they were overmatched on paper.
Today I will break down a matchup between the nation’s number one ranked team, the Villanova Wildcats, as they look to protect their home court against a surging Providence Friars team.
The Providence Friars will look to stay hot Tuesday night when they travel to Philadelphia to face the Villanova Wildcats. Providence has been on fire the last two weeks in Big East play, picking up huge wins against Xavier, Butler, and Creighton.
The Villanova Wildcats have won five straight after losing their only game of the season on the road against Butler on December 30th. Villanova is ranked number one in the country in both polls. The Wildcats are laying a big -15.5-points tonight at home. The game total over-under is set at 152.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM PST from the Wachovia Center.
The Providence Friars looked like a bubble team at best heading into 2018. They had some tough losses to UMASS, Houston, and Rhode Island and it looked like another year of heartbreak for the Friars. They have rebounded well in the new year and own a 4-1 record in 2018.
The one loss was to a decent Marquette team, but the wins have all been quality Big East wins. Wins over Xavier, Butler, and Creighton in the last two weeks have set the Friars up as a legit NCAA tournament team.
The Friars also hold solid wins over Washington, St. Johns, and Boston College. They will get the test of all tests tonight against the best team in the country, the Villanova Wildcats.
Villanova is justifiably the number one ranked team in the country. They have run up the nation’s top record at 18-1, and have several very quality wins on their resume. Beating Gonzaga, Tennessee, Northern Iowa, and Xavier have the Cats in position to not only win the Big East regular-season title, they could very well be the number one overall seed for the NCAA tournament, when all is said and done.
Villanova is led by player of the year candidate, point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson is averaging 19 points a game to go with 5 assists and is shooting an absurd 49% from beyond the arc this season. Most expected big things from Brunson this season, and he has delivered. The wildcard that many did not see coming has been the play of junior forward Mikal Bridges. Bridges is pouring in 17 points and 6 boards a game and has used his big NBA body to dominate long stretches of games this season.
The scary part about Villanova isn’t that they have beaten some really good teams, it is how they have beaten them. Beating Northern Iowa by 14, Gonzaga by 16, Xavier by 24, Georgetown and UCONN by more than twenty points each. When Villanova is on its game, they can completely dominate very good teams. They will need to dominate for all forty minutes today if they want to cover that big number against the Friars.
Villanova is really, really good. You can pencil them in now for the Final Four, and you can feel good about it. They have top line talent, they score at an elite level, and have a great coach that has taken this team to the promised land before. But 15.5 points is a huge number against what is a very solid and hot at the moment, Providence Friars team.
I hate to ever bet against Villanova, especially on their home court, but the Friars just don’t get blown out very often. They feature a very balanced offensive attack with four of their starters averaging double digits scoring and won’t need to play all that well to just hang around with Villanova tonight. These conference games are always going to be closer and harder fought than everyone thinks, and I will be forced to take a bunch of points and back the road team.
Could Villanova run the Friars off the court and win by thirty? Yeah, they could. But I think the more likely outcome would be that ‘Nova controls the game all afternoon long, with the Friars scrapping and clawing to stay within striking distance and this game ends somewhere in the 82-72 range with the Wildcats winning, but not covering the over-sized number.
Give me the Providence Friars tonight getting 15.5 points.