Difficult three-game stretches recently have left Providence and Xavier on the brink of falling out of the Big East race. The Musketeers, who look to end a three-game slide on Saturday when they host the Friars, were keeping pace with Villanova and Creighton atop the conference following a win at DePaul on Jan. 20 before an offense scoring 81.3 points per game through six league contests fell flat. During Xavier's losing streak, it is averaging a meager 63.3.
Prior to Monday's 81-58 loss at Villanova, the Musketeers saw their 13-game home winning streak snapped last Saturday against Seton Hall. Providence is 2 ½ games off the pace in the Big East and dropped two of its last three following Tuesday's home setback against St. John's, but could put some distance between itself and Xavier for third place by sweeping the season series after dealing the Musketeers an 81-72 defeat on Jan. 25. That victory gave the Friars their first five-game conference winning streak since 2003-04 before a loss at Marquette started Providence's recent struggles.
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ABOUT PROVIDENCE (16-7, 6-4 Big East): Although the Friars didn't cave in after falling behind by 23 points at home against the Red Storm, coach Ed Cooley was less than pleased that it ever got to that point. "We didn't play for the first 26 minutes," Cooley told the Providence Journal. "You can't spot a team like that. ... We were flat." Bryce Cotton - the conference's second-leading scorer at 21.3 points - has posted at least 18 points in each of his team's last 13 games and is averaging 30 over his last two contests.
ABOUT XAVIER (15-7, 5-4): Since doubling up Georgetown 51-25 in the second half on Jan. 15, the Musketeers have been outscored over the final 20 minutes in each of their last four contests (182-143). "We're getting our (rear) kicked in the second half every game we play," coach Chris Mack told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Villanova scores 28 points in the first half and almost doubles the point total in the second half." Xavier also has not done a particularly good job defending the arc in Big East play, surrendering league highs in 3-pointers (79) and 3-point percentage (41.8).
1. Providence has used the same starting five (F Kadeem Batts, Cotton, F LaDontae Henton, F Tyler Harris and G Josh Fortune) in every game, which has accounts for 91.6 percent of the team's offensive production.
2. Xavier is forcing a Big East-low 9.3 turnovers during league play, including 7.7 during its losing streak
3. Cotton, who averages a Big East-high 5.8 assists, has played 418 of a possible 420 minutes during conference action.
PREDICTION: Xavier 72, Providence 68