How Kentucky and Providence match up — with a game prediction

How the NCAA Tournament East Region No. 6 seed Kentucky Wildcats (21-11) and the No. 11 seed Providence Friars (21-11) match up at each position for Friday’s round-of-64 contest — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston (6.2 ppg, 4 rpg, 44% FGs) could be the Wildcats’ “X-factor” in NCAA tourney play. After scoring in double figures in four out of five games from Feb. 7-22, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound product of Akron, Ohio, has made only 11 of 34 shots in UK’s last five games. That has not slowed Livingston on the glass, as he has averaged 8.3 rebounds a game over Kentucky’s past six games. In UK’s 80-73 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, Livingston had four points (2-of-7 shooting) and seven boards.

Providence’s Alyn Breed (4.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 39.8% FGs, 27.7% treys) is part of a three-guard Friars lineup. A 6-3, 190-pound junior from Powder Springs, Ga., Breed has not shot well down the stretch, making nine of 26 field goals, three of 12 treys over the final six games. Breed had four points on 2-of-5 shooting in Providence’s 73-66 loss to Connecticut in the Big East Tournament. In Providence’s run to the 2022 NCAA tourney round of 16, Breed averaged 2.7 points in the Friars’ three tournament games.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston (24) has grabbed 50 total rebounds in UK’s past six games.
Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston (24) has grabbed 50 total rebounds in UK’s past six games. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Power forward

Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin (12.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 47% FGs, 33% treys) had a double-double, 21 points and 11 rebounds, in the SEC Tournament loss to Vandy. In a strong finish to his senior season, the 6-9, 205-pound product of Brooklyn, N.Y., has now had four double-doubles in UK’s last 10 games. In Kentucky’s shocking 85-79 overtime loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in last season’s NCAA tourney round of 64, Toppin played well in limited minutes, scoring nine points and making three of three field goals and three of four free throws in 16 minutes.

After barely getting off the Kentucky bench (averaging 2.1 points and 6.5 minutes in 28 games) last season as a freshman, Bryce Hopkins (16.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 45.7% FGs, 37.8% treys) has emerged as a star after transferring to Providence. The 6-7, 220-pound sophomore from Oak Park, Ill., is one of five finalists for the Karl Malone Award, signifying the top power forward in men’s college hoops. Hopkins had 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the Big East tourney loss to UConn, but made only four of 11 shots. During the Friars’ three-game losing streak to end the season, Hopkins has made only 11 of 32 shots, two of eight three-pointers. Hopkins did not play in Kentucky’s NCAA tourney loss to Saint Peter’s last season.

Advantage: Providence.

Former Kentucky teammates Bryce Hopkins (23) and Oscar Tshiebwe (34) are the stars for opposing teams when UK faces Hopkins’ current team, Providence, in the NCAA Tournament round of 64 Friday night.
Former Kentucky teammates Bryce Hopkins (23) and Oscar Tshiebwe (34) are the stars for opposing teams when UK faces Hopkins’ current team, Providence, in the NCAA Tournament round of 64 Friday night. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Center

Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (16.5 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 56% FGs, 72% FTs) enters the NCAA Tournament on a streak of four straight double-doubles. The 6-9, 255-pound senior from Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, had 19 points and 15 rebounds in UK’s loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. Tshiebwe made seven of 13 shots vs. the Commodores, but made only five of eight free throws, including a pair of late misses on the front end of one-and-ones. In last season’s NCAA tourney defeat to Saint Peter’s, Tshiebwe was terrific with 30 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots — but missed four of 12 free throws.

Providence’s Ed Croswell (13.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 60.5% FGs, 66% FTs) had a rough go vs. UConn in the Big East tourney, making only three of eight shots and finishing with six points and four rebounds. That performance was an aberration for the 6-8, 240-pound redshirt senior from Philadelphia, who has had three double-doubles in the Friars’ past six games. Last season as a key reserve, Croswell, a transfer from La Salle, averaged 5.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in Providence’s three NCAA Tournament games.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (34) had 30 points and 16 rebounds in UK’s 85-79 overtime loss to Saint Peter’s in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (34) had 30 points and 16 rebounds in UK’s 85-79 overtime loss to Saint Peter’s in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (14.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 43% FGs, 41% treys) had 22 points and three rebounds in UK’s SEC tourney loss to Vanderbilt, making eight of 20 shots, three of nine treys. Over the Wildcats’ past four games, the 6-5, 205-pound senior is averaging 23.5 points and has made 32 of 67 shots, 10 of 28 three-pointers. For the transfer from Illinois State, Friday night will be his first career NCAA Tournament game.

Even as Providence has struggled down the stretch, Noah Locke (11.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 43.4% FGs, 38.9% treys) has heated up. The 6-3, 210-pound super-senior has scored in double figures in six of the Friars’ past seven games, making 33 of 70 shots. Having played his first three college seasons at Florida, Locke has a long history against Kentucky. In six games, Locke has averaged 6.0 ppg vs. the Wildcats and made only 13 of 43 shots, nine of 35 three-pointers. A Baltimore product, Locke played last season for Louisville, but did not face the Cats because the UK-U of L contest was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the Cardinals program.

Advantage: Kentucky.

In six games vs. Kentucky while playing for Florida, Noah Locke (10) averaged 6.0 ppg and made 13 of 43 shots as the Gators went 1-5 vs. the Wildcats. Now a starter for Providence, Locke will face UK again Friday night in the NCAA Tournament round of 64.
In six games vs. Kentucky while playing for Florida, Noah Locke (10) averaged 6.0 ppg and made 13 of 43 shots as the Gators went 1-5 vs. the Wildcats. Now a starter for Providence, Locke will face UK again Friday night in the NCAA Tournament round of 64. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Point guard

Kentucky freshman Cason Wallace (11.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.0 steals a game, 44% FGs) played 37 minutes on a bad ankle in UK’s SEC tourney loss to Vanderbilt. The 6-4, 193-pound product of Dallas had seven points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals but struggled noticeably on defense against Vandy’s quick backcourt. Wallace’s health is UK’s biggest key entering NCAA Tournament play.

Providence’s Devin Carter (13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.8 steals, 43.4% FGs, 30.9% treys) is another Southeastern Conference expatriate who has played against Kentucky before. Last season for South Carolina, Carter had seven points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals in an 86-76 loss to UK. A 6-3, 195-pound sophomore from Miami, Carter made only three of 10 shots and had seven points in the Friars’ Big East tourney loss to UConn. Over the last five games, Carter has made only five of 22 three-point shots.

Advantage: Even.

The health of Kentucky freshman point guard Cason Wallace is a major key to UK’s hopes of making an NCAA Tournament run.
The health of Kentucky freshman point guard Cason Wallace is a major key to UK’s hopes of making an NCAA Tournament run. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Bench

Kentucky senior point guard Sahvir Wheeler (7.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.8 apg, 42% FGs, 37% treys) has not played since Feb. 4 due to, first, an ankle injury, then an undisclosed medical procedure. Its backcourt depth depleted, UK could benefit from even small stints of action from the 5-9, 180-pound Wheeler if he is able to return. … Redshirt senior shooting guard CJ Fredrick (6.4 ppg, 36% FGs, 32% treys) is also injured, playing with cracked ribs. The 6-3, 185-pound Covington Catholic product has made only two of his past 14 shot attempts. … Along with Jacob Toppin, junior big man Lance Ware (2.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 65% FGs) was named team co-captain entering the NCAA Tournament by John Calipari. The 6-9, 225-pound product of Camden, N.J., had four points, five rebounds and a block in UK’s 88-79 regular-season-ending win at Arkansas.

Providence redshirt senior Jared Bynum (10 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 38.7% FGs, 31.9% treys) is the Friars’ primary point guard even though he comes off the bench. A 5-10, 180-pound product of Largo, Md., Bynum played well in the Big East tourney loss to UConn, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 4-of-6 on three-pointers. In last season’s run to the NCAA tourney round of 16, Bynum averaged 8.0 ppg and 2.3 apg. … A 6-11, 240-pound super-senior who previously played for both Indiana and La Salle, Clifton Moore (4.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 49.6% FGs) gives Providence five fouls and some defensive length to throw at Oscar Tshiebwe. … Corey Floyd (2.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg), a 6-4, 210-pound redshirt freshman, is a good three-point shooter (41.9%).

Advantage: Providence.

Jared Bynum (4) averages 10 points and 4.3 assists per game even though he comes off the bench.
Jared Bynum (4) averages 10 points and 4.3 assists per game even though he comes off the bench. Robert Deutsch USA Today Sports

Intangibles and history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Providence 3-0. This will be the second meeting between the Wildcats and Friars in a postseason tournament. UK beat Providence 79-78 in the 1976 NIT at Madison Square Garden.

As UK head man, John Calipari is 2-0 vs. Providence; Friars Coach Ed Cooley is 0-2 against Kentucky.

In the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari is 31-9 as UK coach. In his first five NCAA tourney trips as top Cat, Calipari went 22-4. He is 9-5 since 2016.

Ed Cooley is 3-6 in NCAA Tournament contests with Providence and overall. Two of Cooley’s wins came last season, as the No. 4 seed Friars beat No. 13 South Dakota State (66-57) and No. 12 Richmond (79-51) before falling, narrowly, to eventual national champion and No. 1 seed Kansas (66-61) in the round of 16.

A member of the Big East Conference, Providence counts as a “power conference” opponent (the football Power Five plus the Big East) for Kentucky. Starting with the loss to Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four, UK is 1-5 in its last six NCAA tourney contests vs. power-conference foes.

Advantage: Kentucky.

John Calipari is 31-9 in NCAA Tournament games as Kentucky head coach.
John Calipari is 31-9 in NCAA Tournament games as Kentucky head coach. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

Prediction

Kentucky 87, Providence 83.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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