Xavier v. Butler: Preview

"No, I swear, I play softer than you do." -Either of them - USA TODAY Sports

A win over Butler on November 13th seems like a different season. This game means a whole lot more to Xavier's chances in the postseason.

Xavier's win over Butler on November 13th barely seems like it happened this season. Travis Taylor scored 15, Jeff Robinson 17, Justin Martin 10, and Semaj Christon only scored two in a game that seemed to announce that Xavier wasn't going to be as bad as people thought this year.

That was nearly five months ago and, by and large, Xavier has been what most people expected this year. Occasionally brilliant, frequently maddening, and a puzzle from game to game, the Musketeers have managed to play themselves into a position where a bye in Brooklyn is still possible if things break right this weekend. If Xavier wins at Hinkle and VCU defeats Temple, Xavier earns the coveted first round bye by virtue of owning the tiebreakers over Temple and Butler.

Butler, meanwhile, has spent the season developing into a media darling. After the Xavier loss the Bulldogs knocked off Marquette and North Carolina, lost to Illinois, and then won 13 straight in a stretch that included wins over Indiana and Gonzaga. Butler's lone bad loss (unless you count Xavier) came against Charlotte. Other than that, Brad Stevens' team has only lost to Saint Louis, La Salle, and VCU in conference play. Currently unranked, Butler peaked at a wholly undeserved ninth in the AP poll and was 20th before getting humiliated by VCU last Saturday. The Bulldogs are 55th in the KenPom rankings, 50th in ESPN's BPI, and 22nd in the RPI. If you are still looking at resumes, this win would help Xavier's.

Team Fingerprint:

Butler is a team that is greater in whole than any portion of its parts would let on. An adjusted offensive efficiency of 108.5 lands the Bulldogs at 58th in the nation. The one number that does jump is the 37.3% OR% (30th nationally) that they manage. The Bulldogs also manage to come 74th in EFG at 51.2%, bolstered mostly by their 50.2% from inside the arc. After that, none of the numbers are terribly impressive. The Bulldogs turn the ball over nearly as frequently as Xavier does, coughing it up on 20.4% of their possessions compared to the Musketeers 20.5%. The teams three point percentages are also eerily close, with Butler making 34.5% to Xavier's 34.6%. However, Butler takes 36% of their shots and scores 29% of their points from deep, so they are willing and able to stretch a half court defense.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are 65th in the nation with a 94 adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bulldogs excel on the glass on the defensive end as well, allowing teams to collect only 26.9% of their misses, good for 17th in the nation. Butler also tries to clamp down inside the arc, coming in at 94th with a 45.5% allowed inside the arc, but, while solid, they don't do an extraordinary job on shooters outside the arc, allowing teams to shoot 32.7%. If those numbers seem familiar, it's because Xavier's defensive efficiency is 94.7 and the teams allow very, very similar effective field goal numbers, with Xavier at 46.5% and Butler at 46.6%. Butler makes no effort to force turnovers (17.4%, 301st), block shots (6.2%, 303rd), or grab steals (8.8%, 257th). While those numbers don't seem impressive, it's important not to lose sight of how good the Bulldogs are on the glass. One and done is generally the order of the day.

In case you hadn't already grasped that this was a matchup of teams that do things the same, Butler's 63.9 adjusted tempo is only three tenths of a point higher than Xavier's tortoise-like pace. Butler is tall, with an effective height of +1.7", middlingly deep (31.7% of minutes come from the bench) and roughly national average in experience.

Starters:

The player: 6-4, 227 pound sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones.
The numbers: 10.6/5.8/3.5 on .498/.000/.552 shooting.
More numbers: 9.9% OR%, 25% Assist Rate
The words: With unrepentant gunner Rotnei Clarke ostensibly running the offense, Jones has become something of a point forward. Jones possesses the best assist rate on the entire team and also gets on the offensive glass well for his size. Roosevelt made the shot that knocked off Gonzaga and propelled Butler far higher up the polls than they ever deserved to be.

The player: 6-0, 187 pound senior guard Rotnei Clarke
The numbers: 16.5/2.9/2.8 on .410/.419/.884 shooting
More numbers: 25.7% POSS%, 57.7% TS%, 39.4% 2PTFG
The words: Clarke is soft enough to have been recruited by Duke and plays with that same air of entitlement. If he catches the ball, he's probably shooting, and if he is outside the arc, there's a solid chance it is going in. Clarke can be either very good (24 against Temple) or very bad (4 against New Orleans) but you can bet he will keep shooting no matter which kind of night he is having.

The player: 6-11, 243 pound senior center Andrew Smith.
The numbers: 11.1/5.8/1.5 on .512/.256/.718 shooting
More numbers: 121.5 ORtg, 58.7% TS%, 10.1 OR%
The words: Smith is a tall, lanky center who rebounds very well on one of the court, and comparatively poorly on the other. Smith's 16.1% DR% is comparable to Justin Martin but is bolstered by the fact that Smith takes up space that his teammates exploit to get the actual glory of the rebound. Xavier held Smith to 9/4/0 in the first matchup.

The player: 6-6, 216 pound junior forward Khyle Marshall
The numbers: 10/4.7/.3 on .559/.000/.561 shooting
More numbers: 9.9 OR%
The words: Marshall is yet another Butler big who thrives on the offensive glass. Marshall also takes care of the ball well enough to rank in the top 500 in TO Rate and rarely takes a shot outside of his comfort zone. Interestingly, Marshall only play 56.2% of the available minutes for the Bulldogs despite only committing 1.7 fouls per game.

The player: 6-6, 185 pound freshman guard Kellen Dunham
The numbers: 10.2/2.8/1.2 on .400/.356/.872 shooting
More numbers: 57.7% TS%, 12.6 TO Rate
The words: Dunham will launch nearly five threes a game, a rate that would seem prodigious if Rotnei Clarke weren't on his team. Despite his size, Dunham is one of the few Bulldogs who would really rather avoid getting mixed up the rebounding melee his team often inspires.

Reserves:

Reserve forward Kameron Woods pounds the glass to the tune of a 24.3% DR%, good for 41st in the nation. Woods will pick most of the minutes that Marshall doesn't. Alex Barlow is a 5-11 guard who will play nearly 50% of the minutes thanks to his 3.6% steal rate. Barlow is a bit of a four on four type player though, because he only adds 2.2 points per contest. Eric Fromm will briefly spell the forwards and pounds the offensive glass even harder than the starters, and Chase Stigall will get minutes in the backcourt, where he'll mostly just wait for Clarke or Dunham to check back in.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier build some momentum? Even a win here doesn't guarantee that Xavier misses the first round of games in Brooklyn, but it would help boost confidence to have beaten two of the best teams in the conference on the trot. With this team, confidence cannot be underestimated as a driving force.

- Will the bigs hold out on the glass? Butler grabs 37.3% of their misses, Xavier only allows a 29.1% rate. Butler's number is elite, and the Musketeers aren't far off. Whichever team controls the glass should control this game. Both teams attack on both ends, so it will be a battle all game. Justin Martin could really be vital in this department today.

- Justin Martin? Martin started the season with eight straight games in double digit scoring, suffered a concussion, then disappeared. A brief resurrection against Fordham and Duquesne proved to be a mirage, as Martin scored six against URI and none against Memphis. His seven point burst to start against VCU only led to four points the rest of the way. If Xavier is going to win a game against a team that hammers the glass and limits possessions, it will need Martin to rebound and make a couple big shots.

Three keys:

- One and done: It's really that simple. Butler loves second chance points, choke those off and it becomes a game of Rotnei Clarke trying to keep them in it from long range.

- Be physical: Clarke went 13-14 from the line against Temple because the refs called the game close. Against Marquette he was 7-21 from the floor because Big East officials let the game run. If Xavier can be physical, they can shut down Butler's leading scorer.

- Crash offensively: Butler isn't looking to rake and run. If there was ever a game for Jeff Robinson to do nothing but hover in the air and wait for tip dunks, this is it. He and Isaiah Philmore need to get Xavier some easy second chance points to keep this game competitive. Travis Taylor probably can't do it all.

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