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Xavier v. Butler: Preview

Xavier's newest rival ventures to the Cintas for the first Big East meeting between the two. Unlike in recent years, it's the defense carrying the Bulldogs now.

Kellen Dunham, in actual physical pain because he isn't shooting.
Kellen Dunham, in actual physical pain because he isn't shooting.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's probably not lost on you that Butler is rapidly rising into the ranks of Xavier's fiercest rivals. After the Clock Game and with Dayton fading from the schedule for at least (and hopefully not more than) a year, the Bulldogs are fast becoming one of the teams that Xavier fans love to hate. Home games in a barn, away games in a swirl of hype, and a mystique generated mostly by a movie that they played literally no part in, Butler joined Xavier to the Atlantic 10 last year and then followed their way along to the Big East.

After years of having a basketball savant at the helm, the Bulldogs turned to Brandon Miller to take over when Brad Stevens headed to the NBA. The offense has, predictably, taken a downturn with the departure of Stevens. The offensive issues haven't really damaged Butler yet, as they enter this game with a 10-3 record. All three lossess have come to teams (Ok. St, LSU, and Villanova) that sport higher KenPom ratings than Butler. All but two of the ten wins have come against teams ranked 100 or lower, with five of those wins coming against sub 250 teams, one which was the D3 Manchester Spartans.

Team fingerprint:

Offensively, Butler isn't the team that they once were. While the losses of Stevens and Roosevelt Jones (out for the year with a wrist injury) go a long way toward explaining that, it isn't as if the new guys are stepping up in any great way. An effective field goal percentage as a team of 48.9% is barely above 200th in the nation and comes because the team is bad from deep, worse from close, and almost as bad as Xavier at the line. Butler still manages an offensive efficiency rating of 107.4 because they turn the ball over on only 15% of their possessions, 34th best in the country.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are 35th in the nation mainly because they shut down the offensive glass. Only six teams nationwide allow a lower percentage of missed shots to be turned into second chances than Butler. The Bulldogs also get out to the three point line and neither allow, nor allow a very high conversion rate (30.8%) on three pointers. The solid positioning that leads to good exterior defense and few offensive rebounds doesn't lend itself to causing turnovers or blocking shots, so Butler just generally doesn't do those things. They also foul on very few opponent field goal attempts, so trips to the line tend to be limited.

The Bulldogs are very nearly average in effective height and aren't very deep at all, getting only 25% of their minutes from the bench. That lack of depth is in some way mitigated by having started the same five for every game so far.

The Starters:

The player: 6-6, 185 sophomore guard Kellen Dunham.
The numbers: 18.4/3.9/1.9 on .417/.425/.813 shooting.
More numbers: 86.3% minutes played, 112.7 ORtg
The words: Kellen Dunham will get a lot of, deserved, praise for his outside shot, but that's hardly the story with him. Half of his shots (48%) come from deep, but he's a pure volume scorer. His field goal percentage isn't pretty but that won't keep him from taking 27.2% of his team's shots when he's on the floor. Dunham's ability to get to the line inflates his points per game, but he fails to completely capitalize by only getting to the rim with 17% of his field goal attempts.

The player: 5-11, 187 junior guard Alex Barlow.
The numbers: 6.5/3.9/3.3 on .408/.419/.765 shooting.
More numbers: 20.1% assist rate, 4.7% steal rate.
The words: Barlow is a defensive specialist who also distributes the ball fairly well. Much like his backcourt mate Dunham, his weak overall shooting percentage is bolstered by a strong number from deep. Barlow also manages a 112 ORtg, but only takes 13.2% of Butler's shots when he is on the floor. Mostly a facilitator and a ball mover, Barlow will only hurt teams offensively if they give him yards of space. Defensively, he'll hurt teams no matter what.

The player: 6-6, 216 senior forward Khyle Marshall.
The numbers: 16/6.4/.7 on .569/.000/.540 shooting
More numbers: 117.7 ORtg, 12.7% OReb rate, 8.5% TO Rate
The words: If Marshall could shoot free throws, he'd be the unquestioned star of this team. His rebounding rate on the offensive glass is immense and his ability to finish 27.4% of his team's possessions while turning the ball over so infrequently is a great asset in a forward. Marshall isn't blessed with range to the arc, but he will still fill it up.

The player: 6-8, 223 senior forward Erik Fromm.
The numbers: 7.1/3.7/.5 on .360/.273/.720 shooting.
More numbers: 3.7% block rate.
The words: That Erik Fromm has started every game and played six minutes per contest more than any bench player speaks volumes to how desperate Butler is for every bit of size it can get. Fromm, quite simply, is not very good at basketball. His line is inflated but the minutes he plays, but his rate stats tell a different story. 5-11 guard Barlow is better on the defensive glass, and Fromm sports the turnover rate of a guard. Still, he's tall and he occasionally blocks shots.

The player: 6-9, 200 junior forward Kameron Woods.
The numbers: 9.3/9.5/1.8 on .538/.000/.603 shooting.
More numbers: 79.6% minutes played, 8.7% OReb rate, 25.4% defensive rebound rate.
The words: I hope that the underline italics up there caught your eye, because that is a massive number. Woods grabs a quarter of the defensive rebounds available to him in a game. That, combined with a 4.3% block rate, make him an absolute menace on the defensive end of the floor. Woods' 104.5 ORtg isn't amazing, but it speaks to a player staying fairly well within his limitations. Woods isn't out there to score.

The reserves:

Butler isn't a deep squad, and they especially aren't deep in height. The tallest bench man is 6-7 freshman forward Andrew Chrabascz. Chrabascz is an excellent offensive rebounder (14.8%) and free throw shooter (85%) and posts a 2.8/3.2/.4 line in his 13 minutes. 6-4 freshman guard Elijah Brown (7.6/2.7/1.5) is the ostensible sixth man and comes off the bench gunning (25% of his team's shots) despite shooting only 35%. The only other reserve getting double digit minutes is Jackson Aldridge, a 6-0 guard who is 6-15 from behind the arc and only 4-15 from inside it.

Three questions:

- What gives? Xavier hammers the offensive glass, Butler defends it extremely well. Both teams can't maintain their current levels, someone has to break. Currently, the Musketeers grab about 12% more offensive rebounds than the Bulldogs are used to allowing.

- Can Xavier shoot against this defense? Butler allows teams an effective field goal percentage of just 48.9%. Xavier has shot below that and won three times, but on two of those three occasions, they grabbed had an offensive rebound rate over 39%. If Xavier can't get the outside shot falling they won't be able to count on dominating the offensive glass to make up for it. The Muskies are 8-35 from deep in the last two games. Another 22% effort could spell a long day.

- Will Semaj go off? Semaj Christon has scored double digits in each of the last two games, but he's done it quietly, letting his teammates handle the main scoring load. Butler doesn't seem to have a great matchup for him, with Dunham being too slow and Barlow being too small. This might be the game where Christon re-shoulders the load.

Three keys:

- Maintain momentum: It's been six straight wins since the Bahamas and the Musketeers spent 32 minutes taking apart a good St. John's team in the Big East opener. This is another game, rivalry or not, that Xavier should win. Take it, and take some serious momentum into a killer next three (Marquette, @ Creighton, Georgetown).

- Run early: Butler doesn't try to force turnovers (18.5%) and plays an even slower pace than Xavier. St. John's tried to speed the game up late and ended up getting eviscerated for their trouble. Butler can be had in transition if Xavier picks spots and gets out quickly. Once behind, the Bulldogs unimpressive offense will be in trouble.

- Be thankful the Cintas isn't a barn: Because seriously, who wants to play basketball in a barn?