Marquette Golden Eagles (8-6, 0-3 Big East) vs #16 Providence Friars (13-1, 3-0 Big East)
Date: Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Justin Lewis, 15.2 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 8.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 5.9 apg
Providence Stats Leaders
Points: Nate Watson, 13.9 ppg
Rebounds: Noah Horchler, 8.3 rpg
Assists: Jared Bynum, 3.8 apg
Game Projection: Providence has a 55% chance of victory with a predicted score of 71-70.
So Far This Season: So far, so good for Providence. Well, mostly, I suppose. It’s hard to argue with the 13-1 record, especially when the loss is on a neutral court to an ACC team that won a national championship in the last decade.
Was that a set up to argue with the record? Yes, it was! They beat Wisconsin in Madison.... but the Badgers didn’t have Johnny Davis. They beat then-#20 UConn in Hartford..... but the Huskies didn’t have Adama Sanogo. They beat then-#15 Seton Hall at The Dunk..... but the Pirates didn’t have Tyrese Samuel or Ike Obiagu.
Then there’s also the issue of their lone loss on the season. Yes, I did just handwave it a moment ago, and honestly, at 13-1, you still can just in the “you aren’t going to go undefeated” department. However, it’s still a 58-40 loss to a Virginia team that is just 8-5 on the season and has losses to Navy and James Madison. 18 points in a game that didn’t break 60 is a huge margin.
Still, even with that on their ledger, Providence is still playing like a top 25 team since the season started. They’re #24 in the country in T-Rank when you remove any preseason bias, trailing only #11 Villanova and #18 Xavier in the Big East.
Tempo Free Fun: Providence is doing this while being a generally speaking unremarkable team. KenPom.com has them as the #50 offense in the country. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well, establishing themselves as a middle of the road team in effective field goal percentage, two-point shooting percentage, and three-point shooting percentage. How are they top 50? The Friars don’t make mistakes and they go hard at you. #66 in the country in turnover rate on offense means they’re ending a whole hell of a lot of possessions with a shot, and that’s a pretty good way to make sure you score points. Another good way to score points? Get to the free throw line because those shots are undefended and it makes the defense a little bit more tentative because of foul problems. Providence is exceptional in that department, ranking #10 in the country per KenPom in the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts. Al Durham is your driving force there as the senior guard has 95 FTAs this season against just 130 FGAs, and big man Nate Watson is no slouch, either.
On defense, Providence has what Marquette aspires to: A top 40 defense. Exactly top 40 though, as they are precisely #40 in the country per KenPom right now as I write this on Monday. Much like not making mistakes is a great way to make sure you score, merely stopping shots from going in is a great way to be good at defense. That’s PC’s deal, especially inside the arc. They’re holding teams to just 44% shooting on two-pointers, and that is #22 in the country at the moment. That’s elite level stuff. Their three-point defense is also great, as teams are shooting just 31% from long range so far this season. I can’t help but wonder how much of that is opponents settling for threes because they don’t want to challenge the Friars on the interior because they know that doesn’t work very well. However they’re getting there, it’s working for PC, as that ranks #88 in the country.
As always, I’m fascinated by Providence head coach Ed Cooley and his reliance/insistence/whatever you want to call it on a dominant lead guard in his offensive system. It seems that he has one again this season in Jared Bynum. So far this season, Bynum has the #34 assist rate in the country, which falls right along in line with the kind of thing we usually see from Cooley’s PC teams. The catch here is that Bynum has missed four games for the Friars this year and has come off the bench for all three of their Big East games. He started in their first seven games, picked up a foot injury after seven minutes in Game #7 against Saint Peter’s, then missed the next four. Bynum has played 26, 29, and 30 minutes off the last three games, so he definitely doesn’t seem to be slowed down by whatever was going on with his foot..... but he also hasn’t taken his starting spot back yet.
In terms of player availability, we should also keep an eye on A.J. Reeves. The 6’6” senior has started in 12 of 14 games for Providence so far this season, and is averaging 10.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. However, he played just eight minutes against DePaul on Saturday and had two fingers on his left hand taped together in that game. Now, to be clear, PC went up 18-5 out of the gate in that one and ripped off a 22-0 run to close out the first half. Up 42-17 at the break, they really didn’t need much from Reeves after that, so you can see why Cooley leaned away from playing him if he wasn’t 100%. It’s reasonable to wonder what Reeves is capable of after another two days as well as in a closer game.
Stat Watch: Kur Kuath is currently tied with Walter Downing, Marcus Jackson, and Theo John for the sixth most blocks by a Marquette senior. He needs just one more to tie Ousmane Barro for the fifth most, and of course, just two more to be in fifth place all by himself. Luke Fischer is up next on the list at 53, and I presume that it is unlikely that Kuath blocks 14 shots in this game to pass Fischer.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 4-6, with losses in each of the last four games and in five of the last six.
Providence Last 10 Games: 9-1, with wins in each of the last eight.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 20-12
Current Streak: The Friars have won three of the last four meetings, and the two sides are deadlocked at four each in the last eight.
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@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer