Everything seemed to be going fairly smoothly for Providence this season, but the Friars hit a couple of late speedbumps on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Now, with a clean slate to work with, the Friars can focus on attempting to make a run in the Big Dance. But their first test is a tricky one against the South Dakota Jackrabbits, a 30-win team this season fresh off an unbeaten run through The Summit.
If you are looking for a double-digit upset pick in the first round, this may be one to keep a close eye on. If you want a team that is riding a huge wave of momentum heading into the tournament, South Dakota State may be your team. But after a brutal exit from the Big East Tournament, expect Providence to come out swinging and ready to redeem itself.
Midwest Region: No. 13 South Dakota State Jackrabbits (30-4) vs. No. 4 Providence Friars (25-5)
Time: Thursday, March 17 at 12:40 p.m. ET
Where: KeyBank Center (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Spread: Providence -2
Keys for South Dakota State
Only a small handful of teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament are a more efficient scoring team than South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits make good use of their possessions down the court and they will be smart about their ball movement. They also bring good balance to the offense with both leading scorers, Baylor Scheierman and Douglas Wilson, averaging just over 16 points per game. Knowing they have two offensive players they can count on could be a huge advantage in this matchup.
The one biggest shortcoming for South Dakota State is the defense. It may be to the Jackrabbits' liking if this game trends to be higher scoring, as their defense could allow for that to happen if Providence takes advantage. But knowing how efficient the offense is, that could lead to a pivotal possession going in their favor.
Keys for Providence
Simply put, Providence needs this game. After getting blown out by Creighton in the Big East Tournament, the Friars have had a little extra time to think about what went wrong and how to turn the page. Providence lost two of their three most recent games, against Creighton and against Villanova in the regular-season finale, but also has big wins this season against the likes of Wisconsin and Texas Tech, so it knows it can rise to the occasion in the spotlight.
Providence has the experience advantage with its roster, which can be a nice luxury to have this time of the year, but these Friars aren’t about to win a shootout. They have to use their defensive style to keep things a bit slower-paced, as that suits them well. In fact, that is the biggest difference between these two schools. Providence won’t win with great offensive flair but seniors Nat Watson and Al Durham should give the Friars a chance to control the tempo of the game with their balanced scoring and ball control off the boards and passing.
Everybody is expecting this to be a tight matchup that very well could go down to the wire. Providence will have some very nervous moments if things go the way many expect them to. South Dakota State has been viewed as an underrated squad coming in, and the Jackrabbits didn’t win 30 games by accident. The Friars may come out to a slow start that could dig a hole early on, but they pull through in the second half to redeem themselves a little bit.