Tonight, the Butler Bulldogs host the Xavier Musketeers in an I-74 rivalry. Over the past 20 years, both teams have seen sustained success in multiple conferences. Once former members of the Midwestern City Conference, the extensive history of these two teams has seen Xavier hold a winning advantage 39 of the 59 times they have played. The consistent meetings of the two teams ended in the mid-1990’s as teams left the MCC for other conferences. Eventually, the MCC rebranded into the Horizon league in 2001. Prior the rebranding, it had been renamed the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1985, keeping the same initials. In 2012, Butler joined Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference before both teams were brought into the Big East. Since joining the Big East, the Musketeers own an 8-3 record over the Bulldogs.
What can be expected in tonight’s matchup:
It’s difficult to beat the Bulldogs in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler is 12-1 this season with the lone loss coming to a Seton Hall team loaded with experience. In that game, Butler gave up an 11 point lead. Recently, the Bulldogs have seen success on both ends of the floor, bringing both their offensive and defensive efficiency into the top 35 according to Kenpom.com. Xavier, though efficient on offense, struggles in interior defense. That seems odd because Kerem Kanter and Tyrique Jones rebound the ball at a high rate on both the offensive and defensive ends. Look for the Bulldogs to drive the basketball. If the shots begin to fall, playing the inside-out game will be a determiner in the result of this game.
Turnovers: Xavier has committed turnovers on 16% of their possessions during Big East play, a number most coaches would like to see lower. The Bulldogs force a turnover on 17% of the possessions that their opponent has the ball on offense.
Running the floor: Xavier plays an uptempo game, averaging just over 15 seconds per possession. Butler comparatively takes over 17 seconds per possession. It may seem slight, but a few seconds here and there can change things quickly.
How Butler wins tonight: If the Bulldogs expect to win, they will have to continue to get back on defense, make shots in the paint early on, and find a way to allow Paul Jorgensen and Tyler Wideman to contribute. When both of them are able to find ways to score, it’s difficult for opponents to beat Butler. I think Butler wins this in a close finish, 81-78.
Random notes: A lot of people that cover college basketball have bumped Xavier up to the 1 seed line as a projection for Selection Sunday. That makes two Big East teams, Villanova being the other, as 1 seeds. Butler visit’s Villanova Saturday for a noon tip-off.
After being ranked 42nd in Kenpom just over two weeks ago, the Bulldogs are up to 19th.