NCAA Tournament 2016: Game Notes & Preview (9) Providence (23-10, 10-8) vs (8) USC (21-12, 9-9) 3/17/16

Where: PNC Arena – Raleigh, NC

When: 9:50pm EDT

How: TBS (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller & Dan Bonner with Lewis Johnson)/WEEI 103.7 FM and (John Rooke and Joe Hassett)/FriarTV

Game Notes

  • This is Providence’s 18th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They are in the tournament for the third straight season, which has happened two other times in school history, but not since 1974. Providence’s record all-time is 14-18 with five Sweet Sixteens, four Elite Eights and two Final Fours. Their last win in the NCAA Tournament was in 1997 against Tennessee-Chattanooga in the Sweet Sixteen.
  • Providence and USC will meet for the 2nd time ever with the Friars leading the series,1-0. The only meeting took place January 26, 1972 with Providence winning, 59-53, in Los Angeles.
  • USC enter the NCAA Tuornament as an 8 seed with a record of 21-12 (9-9). The Trojans are led by Andy Enfield, who is in his 3rd season at the helm of the USC program. Enfield was the coach at Florida Gulf Coast when the Eagles became the first ever 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Trojans are led in scoring by sophomore Jordan McLaughlin, who averages 13.4 points/game. Junior Nikola Jovanovic is the leading rebounder, averaging 7.0 rebounds/game.
  • Kris Dunn was honored on Senior Night, along with Junior Lomomba prior to Providence’s game against Creighton on March 2nd. Dunn recently became the 6th Friar to amass 200 career steals. He went over the 1,000 point mark on January 30th against Georgetown on a spectacular finish at the rim. His 1,169 career points rank 29th all-time at Providence and he’s now 24 points behind Len Wilkens for 28th. Dunn also has 545 assists (4th all-time and 1 behind Billy Donovan for 3rd), 479 rebounds and 205 steals (t-5th all-time). He is 2 steals behind Harold Starks for 4th. He is the only player in school history to have amassed 1,000 points, 500 assists, 400 rebounds and 200 steals in a career at Providence.
  • Ed Cooley got his 100th career win at Providence on March 2nd against Creighton.
  • Dunn and Ben Bentil were named First Team All-Big East performers. Dunn repeated as the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year and Bentil was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player.
  • Kyron Cartwright knows many of the members of USC’s basketball team having grown up in Compton, CA. Cartwright went to elementary school with Trojan guard Malik Marquetti.
  • Opening Line: (9) Providence -1.5 vs (8) USC 3/17/16

Game Preview

Providence and USC will square off in the 8/9 game of the East Region in Raleigh, NC on Thursday night. The Friars and Trojans both had good stretches and bad stretches this season, with Providence’s opening good stretch being better than USC’s. Providence is slightly older and more experienced than USC, but neither team would be mistaken for a senior-laden bunch of veterans. Many national pundits are picking Providence in this game and Vegas has declared the Friars the favorite, with the line reaching as high as Providence -3. That’s the Kris Dunn effect. No one knows Jordan McLaughlin and the only reason anyone knows Andy Enfield is from his Dunk City days at Florida Gulf Coast. People know Dunn and Ben Bentil and Ed Cooley. Don’t let the national and Vegas love fool you, this will be a tough game and Providence will have to show up to defeat the Trojans. How the Friars go about beating them is something I’ll discuss in the keys to victory section below.

The probable starters according to the game notes and prior box scores are:

  • Kris Dunn – #3 – Junior
  • Junior Lomomba – #32 – Junior
  • Jalen Lindsey – #21 – Sophomore
  • Rodney Bullock – #5 – Sophomore
  • Ben Bentil – #0 – Sophomore
  • Jordan McLaughlin – #11 – Sophomore
  • Julian Jacobs – #12 – Junior
  • Elijah Stewart – #30 – Sophomore
  • Bennie Boatwright – #25 – Freshman
  • Nikola Jovanovic – #32 – Junior

The keys to a Providence victory are:

  1. Defend the perimeter
  2. Control tempo/Play good transition defense
  3. Avoid foul trouble

USC doesn’t deviate much in the number of 3-point attempts they take per game between wins and losses. In their 21 wins, the Trojans average 21 3-point attempts, while they average 19.1 3-point attempts in their 12 losses. The difference in makes is nearly 2.5 per game with the magic number in wins being 8.76/game. They losses were a smaller sample size and were inflated by two particular games against two top Pac-12 opponents — at Arizona and home vs Utah — in which they shot a combined 21/42.

All of their other 10 losses had makes in the single digits and 6 of those had conversion percentages below 30%. In fact, in the 10 losses besides the two referenced above, they shot 29.4% from beyond the arc. Providence needs to keep the Trojans from getting hot from beyond the arc. Their most dangerous shooters are Elijah Stewart (58/136, 42.6%), Jordan McLaughlin (55/130, 42.3%) Katin Reinhardt (59/157, 37.6%) and Bennie Boatwright (58/164, 35.4%). The Friars will need a similar defensive effort to the one they got in the second half against Butler in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

The Trojans like to play uptempo offense. They rank 20th nationally in with 80.8 points/game and have the 19th shortest average possession length, according to Providence needs to control the tempo and make the pace of the game play into their favor. That’s a bit tricky because the Friars have struggled a bit when forced to score exclusively via halfcourt offense. However, playing a break-neck, up and down barn-burner would be playing right into USC’s hands. Cooley will have to find a happy medium of running and slowing things down. I’d look for Providence to try to run a bit when Kyron Cartwright is out there, but slow things down for the majority of the game. USC doesn’t turn teams over and they struggle giving up offensive rebounds, so that’s another way for Providence to keep the Trojans out of transition.

The other part of that second key is playing good transition defense. The difference in effective field goal percentage for USC when they shoot 0-10 seconds after a rebound and 11-30 second after a rebound is significant. In the first 10 seconds after clearing a defensive board, the Trojans have an effective field goal percentage of 55.6%. Shots taken 11-30 second after cleaning the glass have an effective field goal percentage of 44%. That 44% is their worst eFG% in all of their transition offense splits. Their best is 60.4% 0-10 seconds after a steal. All transition stat are courtesy of Providence shouldn’t totally abandon attempts for offensive rebounds, because that’s an area USC struggles in, but they should make sure their guards are aware of USC players leaking out ahead and the Friars need to ensure they have everyone covered as the ball moves up the floor.

The final thing is a fairly straight forward key to victory and it’s basically been the case for every game Providence plays. If they have Dunn or Bentil in foul trouble, they have had problems. The NCAA Tournament is traditionally called tighter than Big East games, so there could be an adjustment period for the players to feel out the refs. It’s critical that Providence not lose Dunn or Bentil for long stretches of this game. The reason they are being picked by many pundits is because of the talent on the floor of those two First Team All-Big East performers. If they get into foul trouble and are forced to spend time next to the coaches on the bench, it makes their razor-thin margin of error even thinner. Dunn can’t commit senseless fouls 35+ feet from the basket and Bentil needs to be careful hedging on screens and going to offensive rebounds.

The Friars have the length and talent to matchup well with this USC team. They have shown that, when healthy and right, they can play with anyone in the country. Cooley and his staff will have to make sure this team is ready for a long day before playing at or after 10pm on Thursday and the players need to get over the early jitters of playing in the NCAA Tournament. I think they will find their footing and execute the gameplan. I also think USC will go on a run or two. Providence needs to respond and right the ship to beat this young Trojan team.

Prediction: Providence 77 USC 74

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