If you didn't watch this game there will be people that try to tell you that Butler was in it in the second half, or that Butler could have taken the lead with a late run. Don't believe them. Xavier dominated last year's national runner-up from wire to wire last night with a combination of speed and defense that the Bulldogs haven't seen.
For Butler to win, or even contend, in this game they had to slow Xavier and not allow a long run.For the first six minutes, they managed to do that. X was patient though, and closed the half on a 33-17 run. The woes that had plagued Xavier early in games recently (inability to finish, turnovers, lack of effort on defense) were not as readily apparent. Foul trouble for Andre Walker and Kenny Frease forced to get 11 minutes out of Jeff Robinson, and even he responded well.In the second half though, Butler did make a run. Teams that have lost the national championship twice in a row don't just go away, and the Bulldogs didn't want to last night. A handful of Xavier misses, they only shot 39% on the night, and Butler's only two made three pointers of the night cut the lead to 45-41 with 13:16 to play. The Musketeers didn't panic though. With the Hinkle Fieldhouse faithful sensing that their team may have had a chance and Brad Stevens exhorting his troops frenetically, Coach Mack wasn't even concerned enough to call a timeout.
As if to justify the coach's cool, Xavier took control of the game right back Tu Holloway dribbled until he found contact and converted twice from the line. Two trips later Tu found Dez Wells flying down the right channel for a ferocious dunk and Xavier was back in command. Tu and Wells put on an 11-2 run that quieted the crowd and effectively ended the game. Butler tried to rally twice more but never threatened significantly. After the drama of the last two meetings, Xavier's defense made this one seem a bit anticlimactic. As a team Butler shot 30%/9%/75%. That won't beat Xavier, even with home clock advantage.
- Can Xavier consistently force the pace? They certainly tried. Xavier ran on every chance they could get and harried Butler's miserable offense into even more bad shots than they usually take. It was clear that the gameplan was to rake and run. Twice in the second half that led to Dez Wells simply blowing past everyone to finish at the rim.
- Are free throws going to be a season long problem? Last night seemed to suggest they wouldn't be. X was 29-37 for a 78% clip. A good deal of that came from Holloway's 14-16, but only Wells (2-5) had a bad night.
- How many minutes does Brad Redford have in him? It was 11 last night, and it was the dreaded trillion. Redford had seemed to take a step forward recently, but just couldn't manage anything against Butler. Both of his shots were hurried, even for him, and when he isn't shooting, he isn't effective. That said, his defense was not a liability last night, and that will give him a chance to shoot himself into games.
- Justin Martin is still struggling to score at the clip he was expected to. His shot isn't falling right now but, to his credit, he keeps lifting. He did manage four rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 18 minutes.
- Nine assists in a game probably won't get it done going forward. Again, a good deal of that is attributable to Holloway getting fouled, but X was briefly stagnant at times yesterday. Either that or they were staging a series of 1.2 second protests.
- Dez Wells is a game changer. He'd been playing very well, but quietly, after the off hand alley oop. 13/4/0 last night came in the form of a supercharged Dez. His two sprints down the court in which he simply ran past everyone else spoke to a superior athlete knowing when to flash it.
- Kenny Frease impacted the game more than his line suggests. His wide body creates the space that Walker, Taylor, and the guards exploit on the boards. Taylor, by the way, is a monster.
Next Game: Crosstown Shootout at Cintas, Saturday Dec 10 @12:30