A lot has changed since Xavier and Butler last faced off. Despite a couple of hiccups along the way, the Bulldogs have rolled to 11-5 in Big East play and a solid second in the conference. The Muskies, on the other hand... well, you know how that has gone. Battling attrition in a way X hasn’t in a long time, they’ve slid to the middle of the conference pack and onto the top edge of the bubble.
Now Xavier has Butler at Cintas in a game that is probably bigger for the hosts than it is the visitors. With two more winnable games on the horizon and the Big East Tournament following soon after, the time for Xavier to make hay is running short.
Butler’s offense almost never turns the ball over. They’re kind of in the middle of the pack in conference in shooting and offensive rebounding, but they give themselves so many extra chances by only passing to the right team. They’ll life from deep fairly frequently and make their free throws at a good clip, but it’s ball security that makes this offense click.
They’re fifth in a ten-team league in defense; almost the textbook definition of nothing special. Their interior defense is a little weak, but they’re solid on the glass. They don’t force a lot of turnovers, and they’re more than willing to let opponents stand beyond the arc and let it fly.
|Baldwin is a two, but Holtmann has been starting him at the point lately because he's really good at basketball. He doesn't distribute at all, but he can score at all three levels and is a really good defender, especially for a man his size. He's going to be a problem for a while.
|Woodson's ORtg of 129.6 in conference play is good for third in the Big East. He isn't a dynamic playmaker, but he has hit 36 threes in 16 Big East games, never turns the ball over, and is perfect from the line in conference. If you help off of him, it's likely to cost you three points.
|Savage doesn't get a ton of minutes, but when he's out there, he's looking to use the basketball. He's a solid distributor who rarely turns it over, and he has good skills at the rim to go with an excellent mid-range game. He's also a strong preimeter defender.
|Finally this guy's a senior. He's in something of a shooting slump right now, hitting just 8-32 from deep in Big East play. When he's going well, he's a crafty post player who can step out and hit jumpers from the mid-range and beyond the arc. He's the kind of guy who gives X trouble.
|Wideman is a force on the offensive glass and a fairly efficient scorer on the post. Like Xavier's bigs, he's not always a feature of the offense; more than 10% of his buckets have come on stickbacks. He's a serviceable defender but not much on the defensive glass.
Two of Butler’s best come off the bench. One is leading scorer Kelan Martin, a do-everything 6’7”, 220-pound wing dropping 15.7/5.8/1.1 on .415/.340/.769 shooting. He’s effective at the rim and mid-range, but mostly he loves shooting threes. Joining him is 5’11” senior Tyler Lewis. His line of 6.9/1.5/4.1 isn’t as superficially impressive, but it comes with .545/.458/.766 shooting and an assist rate over 32%. Lewis has an ORtg of 132.8, good for 8th in the country.
You’ll probably see Nate Fowler and Sean McDermott off the bench as well. Fowler is a 6’10” sophomore center who can score remarkably well at all three levels - his shooting line is .679/.556/.788 - but is no great shakes on the glass. McDermott mostly just fills minutes at the forward positions, but now that I’ve said that he’s probably going to go for 18 and 7.
- Will Trevon get his legs back? Bluiett played against Seton Hall, and played a lot on his way to 14/3/1. X showed in his absence that they need him as a dynamic scorer to be anything close to fun to watch on offense.
- Is it Tyrique's time to shine again? Last time thes teams met, Tyrique Jones played only one minute and did not record a stat (not even a foul). In the the period between then and now, Jones has been one of the few pleasant surprises for Xavier, starting the last 8 games and showing the makings of an explosive post game. Butler can be had in the paint and X needs this one, so Jones going full Creighton game today would be oppotune for Xavier.
- Is there anything left in the tank? In losing their last four, Xavier has begun to look like a team that is running out of steam toward the end of the season. Losing Davis and Sumner certainly has left the shelf bare in terms of players, but a lot can be said for momentum when the business end of the season rolls around. There have been Xavier teams in the past that got things rolling in the right direction late in the season and rode the momentum into the second weekend. If X can muster up a performance to beat Butler today, they may just start something bigger.
- Get someone going from deep- Butler concedes the arc on defense, which is a two-edged sword. Creighton, Georgetown, and Providence all shot 40% or better from deep in recent wins over Butler. Georgetown did it while turning the ball over 13 times and getting 3 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, Butler turned it over 16 times against Nova, but still won because the Wildcats shot 6-24 from three.
- Get the crowd going early- It is no secret X has been sputtering of late, losing three straight on the road, but they are back at the Cintas Center today, where theu have only lost twice this season. If Xavier can get off to an early lead, it may well boost the team's flagging confidence. Butler will likely not be cowed by the situation, having erased an 8 point lead in the final 13 minutes at Villanova, but X sure could use the boost.
- Recognize the situation- Coming into this season, Xavier was a top 10 team and was seen as a fairly safe bet to play into the latter parts of the NCAA Tournament. Now there is the creeping possibility that they may not make the event at all, should their free fall continue. Today is a chance to stop the rot, sure up the resume, and serve notice that they are still a force to be reckoned with all in one. It is a big chance, and Xavier is running out of those.