Friars vs. Xavier: Battle of the Guards
Friday, January 24, 2014
Game time: Saturday, Jan. 25 at noon
Location: Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 103.7 WEEI
Two months into a significant rebuild at Providence, Ed Cooley welcomed a 6'3 point guard to campus who had seen his stock rise considerably in the spring of 2011.
Blessed with long limbs, exceptional athleticism, and terrific size for the position, the scouting report on Semaj Christon read much like that of Kris Dunn at the time. Both started to attract high major attention during a breakout spring (Dunn's junior year, Christon's senior at Winton Woods High in Cincinnati), they were viewed as more athletes than shooters, and seemingly overnight, the power schools starting calling both.
There were rumblings of Dunn's commitment to Providence throughout the summer, overshadowing the recruitment of Christon, who appeared headed to either Xavier or Georgetown in the weeks following his visit to PC. Christon pledged to Xavier in late-July, Dunn to PC soon after, and this writer spent the fall and winter quietly wondering which player had the higher upside.
Dunn had the acclaim at the time. He'd be named a McDonald's All American during his senior season at New London High School, while Christon spent a prep season at Brewster Academy where word started to get out about just how good he'd become. Christon stepped into the role vacated by one-time Friar verbal Naadir Tharpe, who'd manned the point for three seasons at Brewster, and while the Bobcats featured the likes of Mitch McGary, JaKarr Sampson, and TJ Warren, it was Christon who was quite often the best player on the floor from my view.
A year after winning the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award, Christon has emerged into a full-blown star in the Big East. The sophomore is the key reason why Xavier has now won 10 of their last 11 games and stand at 5-1 in the Big East and 15-4 overall. The Musketeers have been punishing on the glass (a +7 per game advantage in Big East contests) and feature a terrific backcourt in Christon and Dee Davis, who was recently named to the league's Honor Roll. Davis has made half of his threes and 88% from the free throw line in conference games.
While Dunn's injured shoulder has cheated us of the opportunity to see the two go head to head (and what a matchup it would have been -- elite defender versus blur off the dribble), Christon is competing with another Friar for the title of Big East's best guard.
Christon is averaging nearly 22 points per game in conference games, and connecting on a ridiculous 63.5% from the field. Why? Because he lives at the rim thanks to an explosive first step. Christon has scored at least 27 points in three of the last four games and has gone 18-24 in the previous two.
With a 1,000 point big man in Isaiah Philmore, the Big East's third leading rebounder in Matt Stainbrook, and long range sniper Myles Davis, Xavier will be quite the challenge when they come to Providence on Saturday, but Cooley's team is trending upward -- way upward.
Winners of four straight, the Friars will be flying high on their home floor with the buzz back in Friartown, Kadeem Batts returning to his form of a season ago, and Bryce Cotton playing at an elite level.
Batts has grabbed 35 rebounds in his last three games and will have to be a major presence against a big front court.
PC has also gotten a significant lift from LaDontae Henton, who is shooting just shy of 40% from three this season, and 82% at the free throw line to go along with his 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.
Saturday may well be an opportunity for Carson Desrosiers to be a game changer. The 7'0 center has a block in every game Providence has played this season and totaled 12 over the last four games. With Christon making a living at the rim, Cooley will have to hope that Desrosiers can be a deterrent.
This is a critical game for the Friars, as PC is currently a game behind Xavier for third in the Big East, and it's an opportunity to get a second win over a top 30 RPI team in seven days.
And then there's Cotton versus Christon. You could make a case for either having the better season -- their statistics and team records are nearly identical in conference games:
Cotton is averaging 22 points per game in conference play to Christon's 21.7
Christon is second in the Big East in field goal percentage
Cotton is first in assists (6.3), while Christon is 5th (4.2)
Christon is third in steals
Cotton is 2nd in assist/turnover ration, Christon is 6th
Cotton is 1st in minutes played (43.0) and Christon is 6th (36.2)
Two terrific guards, evenly matched frontcourts, third place on the line, and the opportunity for PC to win five Big East games in a row for the first time in the Ed Cooley era.
Expect the Dunk to be roaring for this one.
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