The degree of difficulty ramps up considerably this week for Indiana. After handling a bad and undermanned Tennessee Tech squad on Wednesday, it’s off to North Carolina for a mainland edition of the Maui Invitational.
First up in Asheville? That would be Providence. After that? Either Texas or Davidson. From there? *shrug* North Carolina, UNLV, Stanford and Alabama sit on the other side of the bracket. We’ll see.
Let’s start with what we know about the Monday matinee.
The Opponent: Providence
Ed Cooley’s crew is picked to finish third in the Big East, per the league’s official coaches poll. Providence returns three starters from a squad that last year went 19-12 and won a program-record 12 games in the conference. The abrupt cancellation of the postseason was an especially disappointing development for the Friars, who had won six straight and eight of 10 to close the regular season with a NET ranking of 37. Yeah, they were hot. At the time of the cancellation, it looked like Providence would enter the NCAA Tournament at roughly the seven-seed level.
Fast forward to this year, and the Friars have an intriguing roster led by junior guard David Duke. A former IU recruiting target, Duke is developing into a stud in the Big East, where he earned preseason placement on the league’s all-conference first team. He improved in nearly every statistical category a year ago, while averaging 12.0 points and shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc — good for fourth best in the Big East. He’s a really, really good player who got his season started on the right note last week against Fairfield, scoring 18 points, sinking three of his four 3-point attempts, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing four assists.
Senior center Nate Watson can also be a lot to deal with. Last season, the 6-foot-10 All-Big East preseason second-teamer averaged nine points, while leading the team in field goal percentage (51.1%). He scored in double figures 11 times, while averaging 4.6 rebounds per contest. Watson seized the spotlight in Providence’s season opener, logging a double-double with a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds in the victory over Fairfield.
Junior guard A.J. Reeves is another player to watch. A former four-star recruit, Reeves has demonstrated an ability to knock down shots during his first two seasons. As a freshman, Reeves shot 38 percent from 3-point range. Last year, he posted a 41 percent shooting mark from beyond the arc during conference games.
Although Providence graduated two double-figure scorers from last year’s team, the Friars are hoping the addition of four transfers can help round their roster. Big men Noah Horchler (North Florida) and Ed Croswell (LaSalle) both made meaningful contributions off the bench in the season opener, scoring in double figures and combining for 15 boards. Horchler, who averaged 16 points and 9.3 rebounds during his sophomore season at North Florida, gives the Friars some offensive upside, while Croswell is at his best on the glass. Another transfer, guard Jared Bynum (Saint Joseph’s), had an encouraging debut in Game 1, dishing eight assists without a turnover.
Things To Watch
Can anyone hit shots consistently?: This is going to be a thing until it’s not — and it’s really weird to think that this is still a thing. But it is. Going 5-for-19 from deep and 10-for-22 at the line, as IU did in the opener, won’t cut it against better competition in Asheville.
Who takes the pressure off TJD?: Along the same lines as above, until Indiana demonstrates it can do anything else against better opponents, teams are going to lock down the inside and take away Trayce Jackson-Davis. Where does the secondary production come from? Jerome Hunter is one option, and with all the doubles that will deployed down low, Indiana’s perimeter guys need to have an impact.
Nate Watson: David Duke is The Guy for Providence, but Watson is poised to occupy a major role, himself. He certainly did in the Friars’ opener. Fully healthy after a knee injury knocked his junior season off course, Watson gives Providence great size. He should provide an interesting early-season test for Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana vs. Providence
Where? Harrah’s Cherokee Center, Asheville, N.C.
When? Monday, 2:15 p.m. ET
Channel? ESPN2 | Jason Benetti (p-b-p), Bill Walton (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? IU -1