Xavier Musketeers face tough road test Wednesday at No. 11 Providence

Life in the Big East Conference is a grind and it doesn't slow down when a team is struggling.

For as tough as the last few weeks and months have been for Xavier's men's basketball team, the Musketeers are still in a good position to reach the NCAA Tournament, but Xavier would like to play better basketball over the final four games of the regular season.

Coming off a loss at No. 24 UConn on Saturday – the second loss in a row and the sixth in the last nine games – the Musketeers could use a good game on Wednesday (7 p.m., CBS Sports) at No. 11 Providence.

The Friars are in first place in the Big East standings and the Dunkin' Donuts Center is always a tough venue to escape with a win.

Xavier Musketeers guard Paul Scruggs (1) hits a shot over Providence Friars forward Justin Minaya (15) in the second half of the NCAA men's basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, at Cintas Center in Cincinnati. Providence Friars defeated Xavier Musketeers 65-62.
Xavier Musketeers guard Paul Scruggs (1) hits a shot over Providence Friars forward Justin Minaya (15) in the second half of the NCAA men's basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, at Cintas Center in Cincinnati. Providence Friars defeated Xavier Musketeers 65-62.

Providence is 22-3 overall, 12-2 in the Big East, and the Friars are 14-1 at home.

Xavier (17-9, 7-8) met Providence about a month ago in Cintas Center and the Friars won it at the buzzer with a 3-pointer from Jared Bynum, who's currently playing some of the best basketball of his career.

"I always think with Providence, No. 1, we gotta control the glass," Xavier head coach Travis Steele Monday during his pre-game press conference. "No. 2, we gotta have a great attack against their zone, which can slow a lot of teams down with their size and their length. And then, No. 3, we have to value the ball."

It's another Quad 1 opportunity for Xavier and the Musketeers could use a game to turn the tide.

Nate Johnson's availability remains up in the air for Xavier. Johnson, who's missed the last two games, didn't practice Monday and while Steele said he's "hopeful" that Johnson could play Wednesday, he added that Johnson's still dealing with pain in his left knee.

Providence is also dealing with a key injury to guard Al Durham, who didn't play Sunday in the Friars' win over Butler. It's unclear if Durham, Providence's second-leading scorer, will play on Wednesday.

The game

  • Tipoff: 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Dunkin' Donuts Center

  • TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network with play-by-play from Andrew Catalon and analysis from Steve Lappas. Sherree Burruss is the sideline reporter. Byron Larkin and Joe Sunderman will have the radio call on WKRC-AM (550). The broadcast is also on the Sirius XM App (984)

  • Series info: Xavier leads the series 11-10

Scouting report

Xavier Musketeers (17-9, 7-8)

Coach: Travis Steele, fourth season (68-46 overall)

Offense: 72.7 ppg

Defense: 66.2 ppg

Projected lineup

Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)

Paul Scruggs (G, 6'5", 12.0 ppg)

Jack Nunge (F, 7'0", 13.4 ppg)

Colby Jones (G, 6'6", 10.2 ppg)

Zach Freemantle (F, 6'9", 9.8 ppg)

Dwon Odom (G, 6'2", 6.0 ppg)

Providence Friars (22-3, 12-2)

Coach: Ed Cooley, 11th season (216-138 overall)

Offense: 71.4 ppg

Defense: 65.8 ppg

Projected lineup

Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)

Nate Watson (C, 6'10", 14.2 ppg)

A.J. Reeves (G, 6'6", 9.3 ppg)

Justin Minaya (F, 6'7", 5.7 rpg)

Noah Horchler (F, 6'8", 10.0 ppg)

Jared Bynum (G, 5'10", 12.2 ppg)

Players to watch

Jared Bynum

Bynum's been on a tear recently, scoring at least 18 points in five straight games. Over that span, Bynum's scored 25 (DePaul) and a season-high 32 (Georgetown). His 3-point shooting has really elevated the Friars' offense.

Paul Scruggs

Scruggs is approaching the end of his college career. If Xavier wants to finish the right way, it needs its fifth-year senior to play the way he's capable.

Keys to the game

Efficiency, rebounding, decision-making

It's easy to look at the recent struggles and forget that Xavier has the ability to play good basketball. The Musketeers have shown that, but now it's time to put it all together and get it rolling before the end of the regular season. Xavier has the talent to do it.

Rankings

KenPom.com: Xavier (37); Providence (46).

NET: Xavier (25); Providence (27).

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Big East basketball: Xavier looks to end slump at Providence