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Xavier v. Butler: Big East tournament preview

Butler is as safe as a team can be in terms of at-large consideration, but Xavier could use one more win (just in case). Neither team wants to leave MSG early; here is what to expect when the ball goes up.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

They say familiarity breeds contempt, and nowhere is that adage more put to the test than a conference tournament in a league that plays a true round robin. By the time any matchup in the Big East tournament kicks off, the teams will have spent at least 80 minutes over the course of at least two prior games fighting each other for precious league wins. The fact that almost every win in conference play is a boost to a team's at-large resume only serves to intensify the heat with which the games have been contested.

Now it's all on the line: win or sweat it out on Selection Sunday. Win or risk sliding down to a less favorable seed line. Win or go home.

By this point, you don't need 800 words from me to tell you about Butler. You already know that they rebound hard on both ends, protect the ball, and defend like they bet the under. You know Alex Barlow and Roosevelt Jones are two of the must frustratingly effective players in the conference. You know Andrew Chrabascz has a nice inside-out game, you know Kameron Woods anchors the paint on both ends. You know Kelli Dunham. Let's cut right to the meat.

Three questions:
-What does Xavier do with Chrabascz?
It's no secret that a large part of the difference between the first and second games between these two teams this year was what Butler fans delightfully dubbed "the Chrabsence." He gutted Xavier for 19 on 5-9/2-6/7-9 shooting in the Butler win and is the kind of player that gives Coach Mack's defense fits. X needs to at least keep him in check this time around.

-Who controls the glass? It's no secret that Coach Mack was not happy with how Xavier performed on the glass in the first game, and their rebounding was much improved in the second. Butler is the top rebounding team in the league on both ends, and Xavier is second in the Big East in DReb%. This game might come down to who can limit the other team's second chances.

-Who starts for Xavier? Does Coach Mack try to force the issue inside with two traditional bigs? If so, does he start Jalen or James alongside Stainbrook? Then does he go three guards or start Trevon on the wing? If he goes small, the lineup presumably sorts itself as Dee, Myles, Remy, Trevon, Matt. If he chooses to go big, that not only gives us a peek at his thought process for the game, it also leaves him a lot of choices to make with personnel.

Three keys:
-Feed the post.
Xavier is 38th in the nation in effective height; Butler is 185th. Xavier is first in the conference in 2P% offense; Butler is 6th in 2P% defense. The Muskies have waves of very big men; Butler's interior chops get very sketchy after Kameron Woods. There is an advantage to be had if Xavier can consistently force the issue inside.

-Use to zone. Butler is a good three-point shooting team, but they don't shoot a whole lot of them. They are 10th in the Big East in 3PA/FGA. They're also 10th in the league in assist rate, which indicates that they don't move the ball as much as they give it to someone who finds his own shot. Going into a 1-3-1 for stretches can cut down penetration, put pressure on moving the ball, and force them out of their offensive comfort zone.

-Put together a cohesive 40 minutes. That has been a problem for X all year. They were down just 1 at Butler in the last ten minutes before falling apart down the stretch. The stakes haven't gotten any lower since then, and everyone has more miles on the ol' odometer. On the other hand, they also have more experience. Xavier is probably in no matter what, but a win here would take them all the way off the bubble. They can get that done if they lock in all game tonight.