Jalen Reynolds had 15 points and 11 boards and Trevon Blueitt chipped in with 15 of his own at No. 7 Xavier went into The Dunk and knocked off No. 10 Providence, 75-68.
It was the first time in 20 years that Xavier has beaten a top ten team on the road, and that win came in 1996 against Cincinnati, which is the shortest road trip that the Musketeers can possibly make.
The difference in this game, as it turned out, was the 1-3-1 zone that Xavier employs. It’s an ideal defense to take away what Kris Dunn does well, eliminating the ball-screen actions and isolations that make him such a nightmare to try and guard. The zone forced Dunn to be a playmaker, and while he was able to create open looks for his teammates, those shots once again did not fall.
Providence finished the night shooting 7-for-34 (20.6%) from beyond the arc after starting the night missing 18 of their first 20 long-balls. It’s a constant theme with the Friars, and one I wrote about on Sunday. When dudes not named Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn show up for Providence, they can beat anyone in the country.
On Tuesday night, Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba combined for 17 points on 5-for-26 shooting.
But this game was more about Xavier than it was Providence, at least in my eyes.
The Musketeers might be the Big East team best suited to make a run in March. They can play multiple styles defensively. They have size and physicality up front with Reynolds and James Farr. Their perimeter attack is equally long and athletic, with the likes of Remy Abell, J.P. Macura and Edmond Sumner capable of guarding multiple positions. Trevon Bluiett is a poor man’s Georges Niang, a slow-footed combo-forward that blows by bigger defenders and overpowers smaller guards. They have shooters to space the floor and a potential difference-maker in Sumner, a redshirt freshman who was as atrocious on Tuesday night — he shot 0-for-9 from the floor and looked totally shook handling the ball as the Friars made a late run — as he has been promising throughout the rest of the season.
Their deep and balanced and matchup proof. Their only two losses this season have come in a game where Sumner was stretchered off the court three minutes in and in a game where a unheralded sophomore point guard for Georgetown turned into Steph Curry for a half.
And that’s to say nothing of the mentality that this team program has. They are always going to be the toughest team on the floor. Always. That may matter to head coach Chris Mack just as much as winning the game does, and the guys on his roster have totally bought into that idea.
Put it all together, and what you have is a team that is built for a postseason run.