Here is everything you need to know about the Kansas Jayhawks and the Providence Friars in our Kansas vs. Providence NCAA Tournament men’s basketball preview.
Midwest Region – Sweet 16
No. 1 Kansas (30-6) vs. No. 4 Providence (27-5) Friday, 6:29 p.m. CT, TBS, United Center, Chicago, Ill.
How They Got Here: Kansas won the Big 12 Conference tournament. Providence received an at-large bid out of the Big EAST.
NCAA Tournament results: Kansas: def. Texas Southern, 83-56 (first round); def. Creighton, 79-72 (second round). Providence: def. South Dakota State, 66-57 (first round); def. Richmond, 79-51 (second round).
Winner gets: A berth in the Elite Eight on Sunday against the winner of the Iowa State-Miami (FL) game.
Projected starting lineups
Kansas: G Christian Braun, G Dajuan Harris Jr., F Jalen Wilson, G Ochai Agbaji, F David McCormack.
Providence: C Nate Watson, G Al Durham, G A.J. Reeves, F Noah Horchler, F Justin Minaya.
Players to watch
Kansas G Remy Martin: His scoring has gone up in each of the last four games, dating back to the win over TCU in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals (he’s averaging 14.3 points in that span). And with each game his impact grows. In late December Martin was a starter, but an injury derailed his season. He’s finally healthy for the first time since then, and he gives the Jayhawks one of the most dangerous weapons off the bench in the Sweet 16. It’s not just those two big 3-pointers he hit early against Creighton. He’s playing quality defense, bringing tremendous energy, getting teammates in their spots and distracting defenses from other players like Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. This may not have been the path that Martin was hoping for when the season started. But, if this run ends with a national championship, the journey will have been worth it for the Arizona State transfer.
Providence C Nate Watson: If there’s a potential problem in this game for Kansas, it’s the 6-foot-10 Watson, who is every bit as skilled and physical as his Kansas counterpart, David McCormack. There are two reasons it could be a problem. First, McCormack is banged up and playing through injuries. Second, McCormack is also foul-prone. If the Friars can get McCormack in foul trouble early, Kansas doesn’t have a defender that can handle Watson. He averages 13.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Even though Watson was only a second-team All-Big EAST selection, he has the potential to loom large in this matchup. His scoring can be sporadic, but in a 12-game stretch in January and February, he hit double figures 11 times.
Kansas: The Jayhawks are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2018 Tournament, and if you need a reminder the Jayhawks made the Final Four that season. But, for Kansas, four seasons without a Sweet 16 qualifies as a long stretch. The last time they went four years between Sweet 16s was 1997 to 2001. Kansas is now 41-13 as a No. 1 seed in the tournament after its victory over Creighton. The rise of Martin is great news for a Jayhawks team that could certainly use another weapon on offense. But this was already a great Kansas team with four returning starters from last season (Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson and David McCormack). Wilson returned to form by late January after a sluggish start and McCormack is playing through pain. Agbaji and Braun have been team’s most consistent players. Guard Dajuan Harris starts at the point and is more of a tandem with Martin now, but Harris can score, too. Head coach Bill Self has a rotation that can go nine deep, and that’s a big difference from his 2018 Final Four team, which didn’t have much depth beyond its first six players.
Providence: We associate the Friars with the NCAA Tournament, but this is actually their first appearance since 2018. This feels like not only head coach Ed Cooley’s best team, but perhaps the most accomplished team in Providence history (and we’ll include the 1973 and 1987 Final Four teams in that assessment). These Friars are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years, are the highest they’ve ever been seeded in March Madness, won the Big EAST regular-season title for the first time and is a win away from matching the 28 wins of the 1973-74 team. Providence’s top seven players have deep experience (more than 800 combined college games). Jared Bynum might be the best sixth man left in the tournament. Plus, the Friars are 11-2 in five-point games and 3-0 in overtime games. Al Durham (13.3 points) and Bynum (12.6 points) average double figures, but six Friars average at least six points per game.
Providence is 1-0 against the Big 12 this season. The Friars beat Texas Tech in the Big 12-Big EAST Battle in December. Kansas is 2-0 against the Big EAST this season. The Jayhawks beat St. John’s in the Big 12-Big EAST Battle in December and beat Creighton last week in the second round. Kansas and Providence have never met in men’s basketball.
Kansas 73, Providence 71. Big EAST teams love playing tough, physical defense, and that’s the best way to beat a team like Kansas. Thing is, that’s how Big 12 teams play defense, too. Kansas is used to it. You can’t play gimmicky defense against Kansas and win. Offensively, Kansas has seven or eight guys that can beat you. I think that will end up being too much for the Friars. Vegas thinks this will be a seven-point Kansas win. I think it’s going to be much closer.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.