No. 19 Xavier, No. 20 Providence vie for 2nd in Big East
Xavier is the only team left with a chance to jump past Marquette for the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament.
The Musketeers, No. 19 in this week's AP Top 25 poll, will need to win out and hope Marquette loses out to earn a share of the regular-season title and have a shot at the top seed, which would be determined by tiebreakers.
The first step, though, is a difficult task Wednesday night at No. 20 Providence.
The Friars (21-8, 13-5 Big East), who are tied with Xavier (21-8, 13-5) for second in the league, are 15-0 at home this season. No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 UCLA and Duke were the only other power-conference teams still unbeaten at home through Monday.
Providence has a 17-game winning streak at Amica Mutual Pavilion dating back to last season.
"We have an opportunity to finish the regular season off with two home games, which, we've been pretty good at the crib, so hopefully we can go back to the crib and play well," Providence coach Ed Cooley said Sunday.
Providence beat Georgetown 88-68 on Sunday in Washington behind a career-high 25 points plus 13 rebounds and six assists from Ed Croswell. Cooley called it the best game Croswell has played in his three seasons at the school.
Leading scorer and rebounder Bryce Hopkins picked up three early fouls in a 64-second span early in the game. Cooley had to turn to Croswell and fellow forward Clifton Moore, two players in their fifth years of college basketball, to fill the void. Moore had eight points, six boards and three blocks off the bench.
"We look around college basketball right now, because of COVID, we have two more years of having basically senior citizens playing on the court," Cooley said. "A lot of these teams are just old, and that experience shows this late in the season."
The Friars also will want revenge for their 85-83 overtime loss to Xavier in a thrilling game on Feb. 1 in Cincinnati. Jared Bynum's 3-pointer with 36 seconds left allowed Providence to force overtime, but another 3-point shot with two seconds left in overtime rimmed out.
Jack Nunge had team highs of 23 points and 14 rebounds in that game for the Musketeers, who were playing without top rebounder and second-leading scorer Zach Freemantle for the first time. Freemantle hasn't played since due to a left foot injury.
Xavier, which routed Seton Hall 82-60 on Friday in Newark, N.J., has gone 4-3 in the seven games Freemantle has missed. He won't play Wednesday, but coach Sean Miller expressed optimism the big man could return for the Big East tournament.
The Musketeers have run a rotation of just seven players with Freemantle and guards KyKy Tandy and Kam Craft out due to injury.
"Our lack of depth is something that we have, and we have to play through it and around it (and) be smart," Miller said after Xavier lost 64-63 to Villanova last week.
It proved not to be an issue against Seton Hall. Souley Boum, the team's leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, went for 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting and Xavier beat Seton Hall 42-27 on the boards.
Colby Jones (14.7 ppg), Nunge (14.3) and Adam Kunkel (10.3) also hold scoring averages in double figures for Xavier. Providence relies on Hopkins (16.4 points, 8.8 rebounds), Croswell (13.3, 7.4), Devin Carter (13.2 ppg) and Noah Locke (11.2 ppg).
--Field Level Media
Updated February 28, 2023