The Bearcats haven't beaten Providence since Devan Downey was around in '06, which should tell you how this series has gone of late. Since then, Downey's become a South Carolina Gamecock (that single-handedly gave Kentucky their first loss) and Mick Cronin's 'Cats are 0-for-the Friars.
Now, both schools are even in the Big East at 4-4 and this game is clearly vital to both squads.
"Every game's a must win," said Cronin. "Let's be honest. We approach every game in the Big East like it's the last game on the schedule. I think everybody does, that's why the league's so competitive."
All you have to do is look around: St. John's gives Pitt some trouble; South Florida knocks off Seton Hall (who beat the Bearcats); and UC beats Connecticut--who then beats then #1 Texas--then falls this week to Providence.
"If you get caught not playing with urgency in our conference, you will lose," observed Cronin.
"Everybody's got good players and everybody's good enough to beat you."
After dropping four straight to Providence, Mick Cronin is more than ready to hang an "L" on Keno Davis' Friars. But, as noted, both teams need the win. Providence wants win #13, UC's looking for win #14 and both schools need to inch toward the magical "20" to be in the hunt for any postseason consideration.
"I have no feeling either way on it," said Cronin when asked how many wins the 'Cats may need to get in the "discussion". "I feel like we need to beat Providence. Joe Linardi (ESPN bracketologist) and I have become pen pals and e-mail pals, I'll leave that up to him. We have quality wins already, we just need to try and keep getting better and make sure we win our next game. What I will say is the obvious...you've got to win at home. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you've got to win road games."
Point well taken. UC's only Big East loss at home was to Pitt. Their only Big East road win came nearly a month ago at Rutgers. Not holding serve at Fifth Third Arena against Providence could prove to be disastrous with an upcoming schedule that includes five ranked teams.
As for the style of play you can expect from Providence, it's a little different. Xavier's the only team to score in the 80s on the Bearcats--Providence will try to be the next.
"They will shoot the early three-point shot, more so than anybody in our conference," said Cronin. "Defensively, you've got to be prepared to guard them on the first pass from the three-point line. Just because Providence is a good offensive team, we're not going to concede them 80-something points. If they come in here and get 80-something points, I'll be very unhappy."
When UC has the ball, Providence will be throwing another wrinkle into the picture...the dreaded match-up zone.
"They'll change defenses, but (it's) primarily match-up zone," said Cronin. "They try to make you shoot a lot of jumps shots. (They) do a lot of switching and packing it in. (They) try to confuse you more than anything and bait you in to taking a lot of jump shots. Nobody in our league plays zone the way that they play zone."
Given UC's season long shooting woes, a match-up zone could be alarming. However, things have improved recently as the Bearcats hit 50 percent of their threes against Louisville and shot 44 percent altogether.
"I've felt good about our shooting all year, because we've shot it good in practice," said Cronin. "Shooting comes and goes. Everybody's worried about our shooting, we're 10-20 at Louisville, 6-8 in the second half from the three-point line, and lose the game. So, what does that tell you? Defense wins."
Cronin's delivered that mantra all week on the floor and in the video room. The second half of the Louisville game left a lot to be desired defensively.
As for the ever-changing point guard situation, Cronin was non-committal about who will start Saturday night.
" Well, we have three of them, so it's a good problem," Cronin dead-panned. "Last year, I had one. I was the back-up in practice. They'll all play at that position. Deonta won't play point guard the rest of the season as much as he had to for awhile there. The freshmen are playing well. I'm excited about the way they're playing."
The excitement continues Saturday night as UC plays their last game in the month of January. A brutal February looms ahead and then the drive toward March.
If UC has aspirations of meaningful games in March, Saturday night's game is as necessary as they come.