In the Big East, all roads lead to one final location: Madison Square Garden. And for the first time ever, the Providence Friars have found themselves on top of the Big East Conference standings heading into New York City. The Friars have a favorable top seed heading into the Big East Tournament, but there are no easy wins in this competitive conference. The Friars have their sights on their next goal: winning the Big East Tournament, and improving their NCAA seeding chances.
What does the path to cutting down the nets on Saturday night look like for the Friars, and what are fans thinking about that road? Let’s take a look!
QUARTERFINALS, 3/10, XAVIER OR BUTLER
The first team Providence will face will be the winner of the 8/9 matchup between Xavier and Butler. The Friars swept both teams in the regular season, though it was no easy feat. Xavier required a last second three pointer from Jared Bynum and then three overtimes in order to earn the victory, and Butler required a rally and overtime in Indianapolis in order for Providence to come away victorious. Though the Friars won their home matchup with the Bulldogs, PC struggled to pull away and traded leads with Butler throughout the game.
Xavier has always been a challenge, and their recent results are a bit out of character for what the Musketeers normally bring to the court. They won their regular season finale by defeating Big East basement team Georgetown handily, but had been on a 5 game losing streak before that win. Furthermore, Xavier’s position on the bubble means they could be playing desperate. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them carry momentum from a Butler win the day before into their game against Providence.
Butler, on the other hand, won’t be playing for much. Short of a Big East Championship the Bulldogs aren’t seeing the right side of a bracket this year. Should they beat Xavier on Wednesday, they’re going to be the more manageable of the two teams Providence could face. While they did give Providence a run in Indianapolis, a neutral court isn’t going to do the Bulldogs any favors. The performance they gave the Friars in Indianapolis was more likely a fluke that I wouldn’t expect to see a second time.
Of the two, I think most fans would prefer to see the Bulldogs as their Thursday opponent, though both games feel winnable.
SEMIFINALS, 3/11, CREIGHTON OR MARQUETTE
Things get interesting on Friday night with Marquette or Creighton as the next opponent for the Friars. The Friars only played Creighton once this season because of scheduling conflicts, and when they did, the Bluejays were missing one of their top players. Marquette, meanwhile, gave Friars an absolute beat down in Milwaukee, and, later in the season, the Friars needed Nate Watson to complete a three point play late to complete the rally in Providence to avoid a Marquette season sweep.
Both of these teams are playing for NCAA chances. I have a hard time seeing either team miss the tournament at this point, but whoever advances to Friday will be looking to further solidify their resume late and will be playing hungry.
Neither one will be an easy outing for the Friars. The Golden Eagles can be hot or cold, but I’ve been impressed with their defensive efforts under Shaka Smart. In both matches with the Friars they seem to understand exactly what it takes to shut down the scorers and disrupt the Friars’ offensive flow. With how the Friars have sometimes started in the first half, stagnated and turnover prone, I would be nervous about facing the Golden Eagles on Friday. Fans agree on that too, and most would prefer to avoid the Golden Eagles if possible.
That said, Creighton is no walk in the park either. Greg McDermott is a great coach who has his team playing well, and while the Friars may have had a convincing win at home over the Bluejays, discounting them after that one game would be a mistake. Creighton missing Ryan Nembhard likely disrupted the Bluejays normal flow, but Creighton recovered with a convincing win over UConn the next game. They dropped their season finale to Seton Hall, but expect the Bluejays to continue adapting without Nembhard, and a Thursday night win over Marquette will help boost that confidence for a Friday night matchup. Still, the general consensus seems to prefer seeing Creighton for round two on Friday than Marquette.
It’s a coin toss between these two teams, but the Friars are probably better matched against the Bluejays for a Friday night head-to-head. The Friars will need to have worked out any potential kinks to their offense on Thursday, because if they play Marquette on Friday things could get out of hand fast if the Friars don’t come out hot. That said, the Friars are in control of their destiny, and both teams are beatable for this Providence squad.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, 3/12
The last team standing on the other side of the bracket and the last team standing between the Friars and their second Cooley era Big East Tournament championship will be the Friars Saturday night opponent. The likely teams to emerge on Saturday night are UConn and Villanova, with Seton Hall as a dark horse.
Fan preference for these three teams will vary. Some will want to see Villanova for a shot at beating the the Wildcats for the first time this season. Others will want Seton Hall because that seems like a team we match up well against. Many fans, I think, will want to see UConn on Saturday night because the rivalry between these two teams would make a very compelling championship game.
Most fans seem to prefer UConn or Nova. The reasoning for Nova is simple: fans want to see the Friars win one against Nova in the BET and get the Wildcats off their back, as the Friars have struggled against Villanova in the Garden. UConn, on the other hand, is a talented team. A win over them would further validate the Friars. They’re a talented bunch, coached by a great motivator, though largely, the rivalry and history are the driving forces.
Seton Hall makes things interesting. They’re talented and had both highs and lows during the season; a familiar feeling to any Friar fan in season’s past. Seeing the Pirates on Saturday night would not be surprising, and they would be coming in with motivation and momentum. If they’re putting together competent wins one after another, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Friars have their hands full with the Pirates on Saturday.
Will the Friars cut down the nets after all this? The fans seem to think there’s a real possibility, and seeding is on the line for the Friars this week.
The Friars are firmly in the NCAA’s, which means these wins just further boost a favorable seeding. This is a unique position for the Friars and their fans. The likelihood is that the Friars are in a 2-5 seed range, with things being dictated by the BET. Cut down the nets, and realistically I could see the Friars end up as a 2 seed. Win through Friday night, likely a 4 seed, maybe 3. Less than that and the Friars will likely be a 5 seed.
The Friars have had a season for the history books so far, but history is still being written for Providence. The next chapter in this season starts Thursday at noon, and you can believe fans will be watching with anticipation to see how this tournament influences the postseason opportunities for the Providence Friars.