It's the stretch run, and Xavier has once again put themselves in a position where every game is the most important game of the season in terms of solidifying a place in the tournament. The Musketeers need at least two wins from their last four games (Butler, @St. John's, Villanova, @Creighton) to position themselves for inclusion. It's crunch time.
Butler comes in having won 6 of 7 and 8 of 10, with their only losses coming by one possession at Georgetown and one possession home to Nova. They're playing some of their best basketball of the season right now, but the have lost starting forward Andrew Chrabascz to a broken right hand, forcing their first lineup change of the entire season.
Butler's offense is like the answer to the question "What if UC could shoot?" They lead the Big East in OReb%, shoot 37% from behind the arc, and only turn the ball over on 15% of their possessions. They are seventh in the league in 2P% at 46% and last in three-point frequency and assist rate. This is a team that attacks solo and then gang rebounds.
They are third in the Big East in defensive efficiency, thanks in large part to a dominant 74.1% DReb%. Teams don't shoot the three that well against them, but they don't force turnovers at all and are allowing opponents to shoot 48.6% from inside the arc. It's all about making the first shot pay for Butler's opponents, because the second one likely isn't coming.
|Alex Barlow||Point Guard||Dee Davis|
|5'11", 187||Measurements||6'0", 170|
|Barlow is the kind of guy you hate to see beat your team. Everything about him is superficially unassuming, but he shoots well from behind the arc - especially straight on and from the left wing - and has a knack for impacting games. He's also second in the conference with a 3.8% steal%.|
|Kellen Dunham||Shooting Guard||Myles Davis|
|6'6", 185||Measurements||6'2", 195|
|Dunham's game has branched out a little bit during his time in college, but he's still primarily a threat from behind the arc. He barely has more assists than I do, but he has hit 60 threes this season and can score in bunches|
|Roosevelt Jones||Forward||Remy Abell|
|6'4", 227||Measurements||6'4", 195|
|My feelings for Jones hover somewhere between begrudging respect and overt resentment. He is wide but not fast or particularly athletic. Instead he is a continual dervish of old-man game, setting up his teammates or getting his own points with a bizarre assortment of scoop shots and floaters. He's also got a nose for the ball when it comes off the rim at both ends. Everything about his game is unorthodox, which is part of why it's so effective.|
|Tyler Wideman||Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'8", 245||Measurements||6'6", 215|
|I'm sure "Wideman is a wide man" jokes are to Butler fans what "Remy is willing and Abell" jokes are to Xavier fans, so I'll just point out that Wideman is only starting because Andrew Chrabascz is injured. Wideman is a massive and massively effective rebounder, but he's not going to have a lot of plays called for him on offense. Bluiett working against him on the glass will be a matchup to watch.|
|Kameron Woods||Center||Matt Stainbrook|
|6'9", 200||Measurements||6'10", 270|
|Woods works almost exclusively from the right block on offense, and he's not great at it. He's a good shot blocker and effective rebounder on both ends of the floor. He went for 13 and 11 against Xavier last time, thanks largely to going 7-9 from the line.|
With Chrabascz out, the bench gets thinner for Butler (obviously). Austin Etherington is a 6'6" wing who will see action. He's a pretty nondescript player but does keep his uniform from just laying there in a pile on the court. Kelan Martin is a 6'6" bench gunner who seems to believe he's instant offense (28.9% shots% in conference) but kind of isn't (39.7% EFG%, 86.9 ORtg). Freshman big man Jackson Davis has recently also been called upon to provide some bench depth.
-Is Xavier tough enough? Led by Roosevelt Jones, Butler has a bunch of guys who will make life miserable for the opponent for 40 solid minutes. They make hustle plays, play angry defense, and run down 50/50 balls. Xavier is more a finesse team than they have been in years past, but they're going to need to get on the floor to beat the Bulldogs.
-Can Stainbrook bounce back? Matt had a rough go of it against UC's athletic, physical back line, shooting 3-6 and turning the ball over 6 times. Butler doesn't quite have the same kind of guys, but Kameron Woods is a good on-ball defender in the post. A vintage Stainbrook performance would be nice to see for Xavier.
-Has Xavier's shooting touch returned? After lighting up UC to the tune of 10-17 from beyond the arc, Xavier is now making 7.2 threes and shooting 39.3% from deep in wins and making 5.4 threes and shooting 27.8% from three in losses. If X can find any consistency from deep they're about a million times more dangerous as a team.
-Score in the paint. Butler really runs teams off the arc on defense but they can be had (a little bit) in the paint. Posting deep and working big-to-big are going to be important to Xavier's offensive efforts today, as is cutting effectively from the perimeter.
-Hold up on the glass. Butler commits four or five guys to the glass on both ends of the floor on most possessions. This results in a slower-paced game but some serious rebounding dominance for the Bulldogs. Xavier's not going to entirely flip the scenario on Butler, but killing defensive possessions with rebounding is going to be especially important if X wants to come away with a win.
-Build on the Shootout. Xavier nearly threw it away in the second half, but some gritty play in the final minute gave them a hugely emotional win over UC. With four games left in the regular season, that could prove the perfect springboard into a solid finish and some security on Selection Sunday. It's a tough closing stretch, but the Muskies control their own destiny right now. They just need to keep the momentum rolling.