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Providence earns huge win over No. 5 Xavier

Providence v UNC-Chapel Hill

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19: Head coach Ed Cooley of the Providence Friars reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Providence earned its biggest win of the season on Saturday with a 81-72 Big East home victory over No. 5 Xavier.

The Friars had dropped the previous two Big East games on the road at Creighton and at home to Marquette when Markus Howard went bonkers for 52 points. So a win over a top-five opponent -- the first top-five win at home for Providence since 2009 -- gives the Friars a huge win for its NCAA tournament resume.

Kyron Cartwright helped the Friars pull ahead early and stay ahead throughout as he finished with 19 points, nine assists and four steals, playing with a ton of confidence that rubbed off on his teammates. Isaiah Jackson added 18 points while Rodney Bullock finished with 17 points as the Friars shot very well from the perimeter (9-for-20 from three-point range).

In a tight game that saw Xavier never really go away until the final minute, Providence also did a great job closing the game out at the line as they finished 20-for-22 from the free-throw line.

Since Providence has only defeated teams like Washington, Boston College and Saint Louis in the non-conference portion, this was a huge win for their credibility -- especially coming off of a 1-2 start and back-to-back conference losses.

Meanwhile, Xavier has developed a concerning habit of playing some games from behind. The Musketeers have three comeback wins when trailing by double-digits this season but they weren’t able to overcome those issues during a sluggish afternoon. Trevon Bluiett (12 points) and J.P. Macura (nine points) combined to go only 8-for-24 from the field as they were particularly cold in the second half and down the stretch when Xavier needed a bucket.

The rest of the Musketeers weren’t much better from the perimeter as the team was only 27 percent (5-for-18) from three-point range. Big man Karim Kanter was a major bright spot for Xavier, dominating by scoring in the block and finishing with 24 points, but he didn’t have much consistent offensive help around him.

If this game -- and this past week -- has taught us anything, it’s that the Big East is once again going to be really tough and really good from top to nearly bottom.

Previously No. 1 Villanova lost on the road at unranked Butler last week. Now another top-five team in Xavier, a team on a ten-game winning streak, gets clipped on the road at unranked Providence.

With Seton Hall, Creighton and Marquette also off to solid starts -- and Georgetown and St. John’s not being pushovers -- this is going to be a really tough league to win this season. I don’t believe the Big East is as good as the Big 12 or ACC is in terms of overall talent from top-to-bottom but you can make a solid case that the league might be the toughest to actually win.

The top two teams in the league have already fallen to unranked teams and we haven’t even gotten to some of the better matchups in conference play. The Big East is going to be bonkers.