After topping one Big East team to reach the Sweet 16, Kansas looks to do it once again. The Midwest's No. 1 seed takes on Providence on Friday evening in Chicago, with the Friars putting together a very impressive season so far. Providence's defense has been the key to that success, although it will be put to one of its biggest tests of the season when they tip-off against Kansas.
This NCAA Tournament has already lost one No. 1 seed, defending national champion Baylor, and Gonzaga was given a solid challenge in its last game as well. Kansas (30-6) could very well be in for a slow-paced battle with Providence (27-5) that could make things interesting with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.
Here's what you need to know heading into the Sweet 16 matchup between Kansas and Providence.
Midwest Region: No. 4 Providence Friars (27-5) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (30-6)
Time: Friday, Match 25 at 7:29 p.m. ET
Where: United Center (Chicago)
Spread: Kansas -7.5
Keys for Providence
Providence's defense has been more than capable of handling its early tests in the NCAA Tournament. Providence has allowed fewer than 60 points in each of its two games against South Dakota State and Richmond, but containing Kansas to fewer than that mark is a tall order. The Jayhawks have been averaging 78 points per game this season, so the Friars shouldn't have unrealistic expectations of keeping KU below 60 points. But can they keep this game in the 60s?
Providence will look to slow down the rhythm and play this game into its style. The Friars' best chance at winning will be in a low-scoring contest. But they obviously need to have an efficient offensive performance as well. Jared Bynum added 10 points off the bench in 28 minutes on the floor in Providence's last game, adding to a well-rounded offensive effort for the team. Spreading the ball around works well for the Friars, and keeping that consistency with their bench production is essential against a deep team like Kansas.
Keys for Kansas
Simply put, Kansas doesn't want to waste too much time playing the kind of game Providence wants. The Jayhawks sort of just did that against another Big East team, Creighton, in their last game. The Bluejays played tough against Kansas, as you might have imagined, but the Jayhawks found a way to hit a gear that Creighton just couldn't match as the game began to wind down. It wasn't necessarily like hitting a light switch for Kansas, but instead just prevailing through the battle and letting the talent take over in the most important moments of the game.
Ochai Agbaji helped with that effort with 15 points and eight rebounds. He struggled from the field (5-for-14) but made the most of his opportunities from the free-throw line (4-for-5). But he wasn't enough to get the job done. Fortunately, Kansas had a big push off the bench from Remy Martin, who led the team with a 20-point effort (to go along with seven rebounds and four assists) in just 29 minutes on the floor. And the Jayhawks needed that. The ability to get that kind of boost off the bench can be just the kind of difference that plays to the advantage of KU in a matchup like this.
Kansas is in a relatively vulnerable spot. Of the top seeds remaining, the Jayhawks may have the most challenging matchup in the Sweet 16 because Providence does so many things well that come into play this time of the year. The Friars take advantage of their foul shots, they play good defense, and they spread the ball around well on offense to get contributions from everyone.
Even with considering all of that though, Kansas has the kind of talent that can help a team pull away in the clutch moments. And that's what matters in March.