Big East meets SEC in the 7 vs. 10 matchup in the Western Region of the NCAA Tournament. Providence used a run to the Big East Championship to solidify a 10-seed, while Texas A&M’s early non-conference success spoke loudly to the selection committee, which surprised at least me by awarding the Aggies a 7-seed.
I have Providence winning this game so I’m keen to take it with the 2.5 points that the books are offering. To me, this is a team that lacks the raw talent that A&M has, but makes up for it with experience and a general team grit.
That competitiveness was on display in the Big East Tournament when Providence played three overtime games in three nights, beating Creighton and Xavier before falling to Villanova at the end.
Kyron Cartwright was the driving force behind Providence’s run. The senior guard from Compton played 41, 42 and 45 minutes in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game, respectively. He averaged about 15 points and had six assists in each of the final two games.
Cartwright is the team’s third-leading scorer but he was the one taking the big shots on the possessions that mattered most. Sophomore Alpha Diallo was doing most of the heavy lifting in between those key possessions. A 6’7″ guard from New York City, Diallo averaged over 19 in the three tournament games, despite going 0-for-5 from three. He is shooting just 21.5 percent from outside on the whole this season.
Now in his sixth season as the Head Coach of Texas A&M, Billy Kennedy is making his second NCAA Tournament appearance with the Aggies. He took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 2016.
The Aggies were the very first hottest team in the country when they came out and beat West Virginia in the first game of the college basketball season on a US base in Germany and then took down Oklahoma State, Penn State and USC to crash the top-10.
Then A&M lost the first five games in conference play and finished 9–9 before losing by a point in its first SEC Tournament game against Alabama.
The talent, especially the athleticism, on this team is unquestionable. A&M has NBA talent and a bunch of size that makes its defense one of the best in the tournament. It is also relentless on the glass, which will be Providence’s biggest challenge in this game.
But if Providence can handle the defensive glass, it could force a lot of misses from the Aggies, who don’t shoot particularly well. They are under 33 percent from outside on the season and only shoot 45.7 percent from the field as a team, which isn’t a great number considering all the dunks they get off of offensive rebounds and transition.
If Providence comes out tight, A&M will jump it. But as long as the Friars take care of the ball, they have the ability to play in a way that will make life hard on Texas A&M. I expect it to be close and I expect Providence to win.
Free Pick: Providence +3.5