(16) Providence Friars at (4) Villanova Wildcats
The no. 16 Providence Friars (16-3, 4-2 Big East) nearly went undefeated through a tough non-conference slate, dropping just one game to then-no. 3 Michigan State. But it’s been a different story in Big East play as the Friars are mired in a three-way tie for third after losing two of their last four. Today (1:00 PM Eastern), the team has a chance to climb the conference ranks, but nothing will come easy against the no. 4 Villanova Wildcats (17-2, 7-0 Big East), who currently sit atop the powerhouse Big East.
Providence posted impressive wins over Arizona and Harvard in non-conference play and were ranked as high as no. 8 in the nation. But they dropped a surprise home game with an unranked Marquette squad (65-64) in early January, and then fell again in Rhode Island to Seton Hall just 11 days later (81-72).
The Friars rebounded from that loss with a solid win over no. 18 Butler (81-72) last time out, getting 20 points and seven boards from forward Ben Bentil. The sophomore has come out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring (19.2 PPG), after averaging just over six points per night as a freshman.
Junior guard Kris Dunn, who made a similar leap last season, has continued to improve, averaging a shade over 17 points per game along with nearly seven dimes. He got into foul trouble and was confined to the bench for much of the first half against Butler, though, finishing with just nine points.
Bentil, Dunn, and the other Friar starters will need to stay out of foul trouble tonight if they’re going to pull the upset in Philly. Villanova is 10-0 at home on the year and have won nine in a row, overall, since dropping a slugfest on the road with then no.8-Virginia (86-75).
The Wildcats put some distance between themselves and Georgetown, who currently sit second in the conference, with a 55-50 win in DC last weekend. The team’s pair of veteran guards, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, put the team on their backs, combining for 30 of Nova’s 55 points. Arcidiacono scored seven of his 15 points from the stripe late in the game.
He continued his clutch play on Thursday, hitting a go-ahead layup with 30 seconds on the clock in a narrow 72-71 win over Seton Hall. His lanky backcourt mate, Hart, had another solid game against the Pirates, scoring 15 points and hauling in ten boards.
Nova is 9-8-1 against the spread on the year, but haven’t covered in their last five (0-4-1). Meanwhile, Providence is 11-7 against the number and a sparkling 5-1 ATS on the road. Genuflect with the Friars and take the points.
Pick: Providence Friars.
(Photo credit: Keith Lovett [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)
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