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Five games into the Big East portion of the schedule, Ed Cooley’s Friars look to have righted the ship after a lull that began in late November and nearly lasted until Christmas.

The turnaround began with a 94-72 thrashing of St. John’s in Queens. Providence had been playing without a fully healthy Kyron Cartwright, who had been hobbled by a nagging ankle injury for the better part of a month. Cartwright loudly announced his return to form against the Johnnies in the conference opener with 21 points and 15 assists. He buried 5-7 three pointers for good measure.

Cartwright left Providence’s second conference game of the season after re-injuring his ankle, and PC was rather easily dismissed by Creighton, 83-64.

Next the senior point guard scored 29 points in Rodney Bullock’s absence (flu) in an overtime loss to Marquette. Cartwright’s 19 points and nine assists paced a win over #5 Xavier, a win that preceded Friday night’s victory at DePaul.

That’s four out of five games in the brutal Big East in which Providence played well enough to win, surprising considering the Friars looked nowhere near ready to compete at this level a month ago.

Cartwright’s return to health is one of a number of factors for PC’s turnaround.

Cooley would have liked to have settled into a rotation back in December, but injuries to Cartwright, Alpha Diallo, and Maliek White delayed that process.

What Cooley found in the meantime is a lineup he can trust — a small one.

The Friar head coach went small in the second half against a physical Xavier team, and was able to force enough mismatches to maintain the eight-point lead his team built at halftime. That fivesome of Cartwright, Diallo, Jalen Lindsey, Bullock, and Isaiah Jackson played the final 18 minutes of Friday’s win over DePaul.

This go-to lineup came about thanks to the emergence of Jackson, but also the inability of Providence’s big men to consistently protect the rim and contest the glass.

The return to health of Cartwright and Diallo combined with Jackson’s mid-year breakout have keyed the turnaround. Jackson has been out of his mind of late, averaging over 17 points and five rebounds off of the bench in the past three games, all while making 22-24 at the free throw line. He’s 4-8 from 3-point range with eight steals during this three-game stretch.

The depth that was supposed to be a strength of this group will be contingent on a trio of youngsters. White continues to be sidelined with what the school is calling a “leg injury.” He’s listed as day-to-day. Providence will need additional scoring punch if they are to make a run at a fifth straight NCAA Tournament, and a healthy White provides Cooley with a more than capable 3-point marksman.

Even more critical, Providence needs its big men to play bigger. 6’9 sophomore Kalif Young looked to have turned a corner in the loss to Marquette (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, 4-4 from the field), and followed that effort up with a performance against Xavier that was more impactful than the box score indicated (two points, five rebounds, three blocks).

6’10 freshman Nate Watson is more than capable of contributing on the offensive end at this early point of his career (38 points in the first three Big East contests), but his lack of impact on the glass continues to confound Friartown. He hasn’t recorded more than three rebounds since a Nov. 25 win over Boston College.

All of this brings us to Monday afternoon and Butler. Providence is 7-2 against the Bulldogs over the past four seasons, including 3-1 at home. Under new head coach Lavall Jordan, Butler was predicted to finish 8th in the Big East by the league’s coaches, but they are off to a better-than-the-record-shows 3-3 start.

They took out #1 Villanova, scoring 101 points on the best defensive team in the league. Wins over Villanova and Georgetown were followed by three straight losses to ranked teams (#5 Xavier, #21 Seton Hall, #25 Creighton), before they bounced back with a 94-83 win over Marquette.

Veteran Kelan Martin is averaging over 20 points per game. He’s been particularly hot in Big East play, scoring 27, 24, 25, 27, 10, and 37 points in six conference games. Martin and sophomore Kamar Baldwin are capable of scoring 25+ points on any given night. Baldwin had 25 at Xavier and 31 at Georgetown.

Tyler Wideman is another Bulldog who has seemingly been at Butler for a decade. A rugged interior defender and tone-setter inside, Wideman shoots nearly 69% from the floor and serves as Butler’s best low post defender.

At 3-2 in the Big East with three challenging games ahead, this is the type of home win Providence needs to have if they are to dance come March. #25 Creighton, #1 Villanova, and #13 Seton Hall await after this one.

Cooley should be able to lean heavily on his small ball lineup on Monday.

The two teams played a terrific game in Providence a season ago. Here is a look back.



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