Big East Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Providence & Xavier

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 2nd, 2017

With the season just a week away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle Providence and Xavier.

#4 Providence – How will the Friars fare with heightened expectations?

How Will Ed Cooley’s Group Handle Success? (USA Today Images)

For the past few years it seemed like the Friars, even with Kris Dunn, entered each season as an overlooked group with a chip on its shoulders. This perceived slight seemingly served as motivation, paving the way for four straight 20-win seasons with corresponding NCAA Tournament berths. But now, after several years playing the underrated role, Ed Cooley‘s team in projected among the top tier of the Big East and even finding itself in several preseason Top 25 polls. And rightfully so. The Friars return every key contributor from last season’s 20-13 squad, although starting forward Emmitt Holt is out indefinitely with an abdominal issue. More importantly and regardless of the circumstances, the Providence program under Cooley has regularly exceeded expectations and addressed any uncertainties come March. Leading scorer Rodney Bullock (15.7 PPG) demonstrated an ability to shoulder the scoring load despite being the focal point of opposing defenses last season. Kyron Cartwright seamlessly stepped into the lead guard role vacated by Dunn, finishing fourth nationally in assists per game (6.7 APG). And Cooley’s deliberate pace (270th nationally) has played to the team’s strengths, letting Cartwright execute half-court sets while forcing opponents to churn the shot clock. So now that those questions have been answered, the key factor this season comes down to whether the Friars can take the next step up the ladder and play consistently enough from January to March to compete for the Big East regular season crown.

#3 Xavier – Will point guard play be good enough to keep Xavier’s offense humming?

Trevon Bluiett Looks to Shake Off an Disappointing Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Chris Mack‘s group is receiving plenty of preseason attention on the heels of its Elite Eight run last season, consistently finding itself embedded within numerous Top 25 ballots. And thanks to last year’s increased offensive production from returnees JP Macura (from 9.4 PPG to 14.4 PPG) and Trevon Bluiett (from 15.1 PPG to 18.5 PPG), that attention is deserving. Few Big East foes last year proved effective in slowing down this offensive tandem, both of whom are above average shooters and capable slashers. But ever since the Bluiett offensive showcase seen all over the country last March, fans and critics alike have overlooked a key loss that put the Musketeers dangerously close to missing the NCAA Tournament in the first place: point guard Edmond Sumner. Everyone forgets that Xavier had actually lost six of its last seven games heading into the Big East Tournament, which coincided directly with his unfortunate ACL injury at the end of January. The 6’6″ sophomore propelled the team on both ends of the floor with his athleticism and passing (ranking fourth in Big East assist rate), but his early departure to the NBA will mean that the onus must fall to rising sophomore Quentin Goodin and incoming freshman Paul Scruggs. Goodin was an adequate late season fill-in at the position, but he turned the ball over at an alarming rate (26.5% TO rate) and often struggled with defensive discipline. On the other hand, while Scruggs has received plenty of offseason praise, he is not projected as a pure point guard. All of this means that come conference play Mack will need a point guard he can trust to take care of the ball in crunch time.

Justin Kundrat (122 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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