Friday’s opener is an intriguing 7-10 matchup that either team can win. Texas A&M had a ton of talent entering the season, but due to injury and kicking a player off the team, that’s no longer the case in the backcOurt. As for Providence, it continues to find a way to make the NCAA Tournament under Ed Cooley and has been in similar situations the past Four seasons. The Aggies, as the higher seed, were -3.5 point favorites as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Providence had some nice wins this season, but most of those came on its home cOurt. In non-conference, the Friars randomly lost at UMass and also at home to Minnesota. Prior to the Big East Tournament, their best road win was probably at Marquette. But last week, they found ways to beat both Creighton and Xavier in overtime.
Texas A&M has largely disappointed and a lot of that is due to injuries, which forced freshman TJ Starks to be the starting point guard. That’s led to some iffy results like losing at home to Mississippi State, but also winning at Conference champ Auburn. It’s hard to take impressive non-Conference results into account because that was with Duane Wilson in tow.
Both of these teams are better on the defensive end and that could lead to a lower scoring Game. The Friars don’t do a ton of things well outside of get to the free-throw line, while the Aggies best trait is grabbing offensive boards. Defensively, A&M’s numbers are much better in non-conference, while the only reason Providence is in this spot is because its defense ranked second in the Big East in efficiency.
It’s likely this Game will be a fight between two ugly teams. Kyron Cartwright gives Providence a slight edge in the backcOurt as he can actually run the show and averages 5.7 assists per Game. Of the active players on A&M, no one averages more than 2.6 assists per Game. But the biggest thing for Providence is how it deals in the frontcOurt against the size of A&M. The Friars are middle of the pack in terms of rebounding on both ends of the cOurt and their task will be to keep in check three players bigger than anyone on their roster.
The Aggies roll with Tyler Davis, Robert Williams and Tonny Trocha-Morelos at the Four and five spots. And when one of those guys isn’t in, they’ll turn to DJ Hogg, who usually fits in as a small forward. The Friars aren’t a small team, but they lack true bigs with Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo often playing in the frontcOurt. That said, against bigger teams, Providence goes to younger players Nate Watson and Kalif Young a little more. If Providence has to double team those guys down low that only opens up looks for A&M’s best shooters in DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder.
As for Providence, it’s a wonder what Diallo and Bullock can do in the paint. While both of them will shoot it from deep, neither is all that consistent with Diallo at 21.5% and Bullock at 32.8%. If those guys can’t get anything in the paint, that will force Cartwright into a bigger role, which isn’t a bad thing as he sets up teammates, but also creates for himself as seen in numerous 20-point outings. Cartwright will have to do a lot of his work on the perimeter due to A&M’s size in the paint and that may not be a good thing.
The Friars are a scrappy team, but this isn’t a great matchup for them unless they’re feeling good from distance. The size of A&M may be too much to overcome, but if Cartwright has one of his 20-point Games, that could help and is more than possible against this unpredictable perimeter defense.
Our Pick – Providence +3.5