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Friars at Marquette: Getting off the schneid

Thursday, January 30, 2014

 

Game time: Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7:00 pm
Location: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 103.7 WEEI

It had been nearly 10 years since Providence won five consecutive Big East games, yet after their 81-72 victory over Xavier last weekend, the Friars are sitting pretty with a 5-2 conference record (15-5 overall) and a third place standing in the Big East.

The last time PC had won five conference games in a row was the 2004 season, a year in which they actually accomplished the feat twice, winning five straight in January and then six straight to close out February.  It was a season that included a road victory over eventual national champion Connecticut, a win versus defending national champ Syracuse, and a 100-74 beating of Villanova in their house.

What the 2003-04 season didn't include was a victory over Marquette, who'd yet to join the Big East.  The Golden Eagles have owned a decided advantage over Providence since coming to the Big East, having won nine straight games heading into Thursday night.  Marquette hasn't just beaten PC, they've often hammered them.  Since 2009, Marquette has won by totals of 29, 30, 24, and 27 against the Friars.

Forgotten since Providence's last tournament appearance in 2004, is how well Tim Welsh's team played on the road that season.  Six of their 11 conference victories were on the road, with four coming during the six game streak in February.

If PC is to extend their current streak to six they'll not only have to do so against a team that has owned them in recent seasons, but in a building in which they've never won. Providence is 0-7 all-time at Marquette.

A victory over Marquette (11-9, 3-4) would turn the growing buzz about this program into a full-fledged roar.

The Golden Eagles are still a formidable home team, despite their near-.500 record.  Buzz Williams' group has lost just twice at home this season -- both coming against top 10 opponents in Ohio State and Villanova. It's a team that still plays Williams' hard nose brand of basketball (tops in the Big East in scoring defense and field goal percentage against), and should be a handful for Ed Cooley's bunch despite their offensive troubles.

Burly big man Davante Gardner will be key.  The 6'8", 290 pound senior is fresh off of a 29 point, 13 rebound effort in an overtime loss to Villanova, and has found his offensive footing in league play, averaging nearly 18 points per game. Key to slowing Gardner will be to keep him off of the free throw line, where he connects at a high rate (83% last year, 75% this season).

Jamil Wilson was expected to break out, but the 6'7" forward has been more steady than spectacular. Wilson and Gardner are the only players on Marquette putting up double figures in scoring, and one-time PC recruit Todd Mayo is the team's best backcourt option, as evidenced by his 18-point game against Villanova.

Mayo could well be Thursday's swing player.  He's capable of scoring 18 or 19 points (as he did against Seton Hall), but when he's off (2-9 vs. Butler, 2-6 vs. Georgetown, 0-6 vs. Creighton) this offense will have difficulty scoring.

If Providence is to make a tournament run they'll have to do so much in the same way the '04 team did. With 11 games to play, it's conceivable that a 6-5 record could get PC into the NCAA Tournament, but seven of their final 11 come on the road, including two games over the next three days (they head to DePaul on Saturday).

A five game winning streak has caught the attention of Friar fans and national pundits as well, but winning a sixth on the road at Marquette? The bandwagon might start filling up quickly.

Email Kevin at kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

 

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