Really the only downside to earning the first or second seed at the Big East Tournament is that a team needs to spend at least some of their time scouting an opponent they will never play. As the #1 seed, Villanova got to learn their first round opponent after 9 p.m. last night. That opponent, the #8 seed Providence Friars, earned the honor of playing the ‘Cats after handily defeating the #9 Butler Bulldogs in the opening game of Wednesday night’s play-in slate, 80-57.
But what exactly are the Wildcats up against facing this year’s Friars? Although a mediocre, 7-11, in Big East play, this Friars team has beat Boston College, Texas, and Seton Hall. They swept St John’s in Big East play and pushed Georgetown to double overtime. This apparent inconsistency makes more sense after looking at their roster composition. Three of Friars’ head coach Ed Cooley’s likely starters in Thursday’s game against the Wildcats are underclassmen. Sophomore center Nate Watson and freshmen guards David Duke and A.J. Reeves are all likely to be featured in the starting lineup. Duke (6.8 PPG) scored 16 points on Wednesday night to help lead the Friars to their blowout win, but Reeves (10.7 PPG) only scored 3. In games where both these young players go quiet, the Friars often get into trouble. This stems from Friars head coach Ed Cooley’s embrace of a Jay Wright-reminiscent lineup featuring four guards and lots of shooting – they shot 47.8% from deep on Wednesday. Along with the two freshmen on the outside, the Friars feature star junior guard, Alpha Diallo,(16.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.1 apg) and senior guard Isaiah Jackson. Despite playing four guards, the Friars still have length on defense as none of their starters measure shorter than 6-foot-5 inch.
After the win against Butler, Duke stressed that to win on Thursday his team needs “to guard the three outside and take advantage of their size advantage” over the Wildcats’ bigs with the 6-10 Watson inside. Watson himself wants to see his team play with an energy that was missing from most of their blowout 85-67 loss to the ‘Cats earlier in the season. Duke also believes his team has an advantage having gotten a win in MSG already, but that they need to focus on mentally and physically recovering before the 12 p.m. tip-off