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Xavier v. Butler: preview, matchups, keys to the game

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One of these teams has already beaten Nova and Kennesaw State.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Xavier vs Butler
I hope Butler always falls down at everything in basketball.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier isn’t exactly scuffling right now - I mean, they’re 14-1 - but they haven’t been lighting the world on fire lately. They needed huge comebacks to beat DePaul and ETSU, did everything they could to lose to Marshall, and handled a UNI team that has since lost to Bradley and Southern Illinois. Still, 14-1.

Butler needed 2 OT to scrape by Georgetown, a powerhouse that is becoming undefeated in progressively fewer and less impressive contexts, before shooting 15-22 to run by Villanova, who had been just plain undefeated to that point. The Bulldogs come into Cintas knowing that a win today puts them in the early driver’s seat in the conference.

Team fingerprint

Despite what Nova fans had to experience, Butler isn’t a great deep shooting team. They’re a borderline elite team from inside, 36th in the nation at 55.5% from two-point range. Their offense is reliant on ball security more than offensive rebounding to get extra possessions. Mostly they’re not spectacular in any offensive are, just good in enough of them to be a pretty good offense.

The defense pivots on shutting down extra possessions. They are 55th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and 26th in forcing turnovers. If teams do get their shots up, Butler is only an average EFG% defense. Butler will concede the arc to focus on making life difficult in other areas for opponents.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Aaron Thompson Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'2", 190 Measurements 6'4", 190
5.3/1.4/3.8 Game line 8/2.5/5.9
0.446/0/0.524 Shooting line 0.433/0.056/0.875
Thompson is about as thoroughly mediocre as they come. He's attempted one three pointer all year, he turns the ball over nearly 30% of the time he uses it, and he's barely break even at the line.
Kamar Baldwin Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Sophomore Class Senior
6'1", 170 Measurements 6'5", 203
14.5/4.8/3 Game line 12.9/4.2/3
0.424/0.3/0.719 Shooting line 0.492/0.37/0.878
Baldwin scores a lot, but his offensive rating for the year is below 100. He's determined to get his, and it doesn't matter to him how. When he gets hot, though, he's hard to stop.
Paul Jorgensen Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Senior
6'2", 185 Measurements 6'6", 202
12.3/3.5/2.4 Game line 19.7/5.6/3
0.474/0.425/0.857 Shooting line 0.467/0.415/0.886
The George Washington transfer is Butler's most efficient scorer and is an excellent shooter. He's averaging 5.3 attempts from deep per game and that number is trending up.
Kelan Martin Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Senior Class Junior
6'7", 220 Measurements 6'8", 228
18.9/7.1/1.9 Game line 9.3/5.6/1.2
0.438/0.31/0.86 Shooting line 0.433/0.44/0.792
Martin crushes the defensive glass, is a decent shooter, and rarely comes out of the game. As leading scorers go, he's not the most efficient, but he's nearly irrepressible.
Tyler Wideman Center Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Sophomore
6'8", 240 Measurements 6'9", 237
10.1/5.1/0.5 Game line 9.4/5.7/0.6
0.69/0/0.735 Shooting line 0.695/0/0.574
Wideman shoots 78% at the rim and is Butler's best offensive rebound. If he wasn't so foul prone, he'd be more a part of the offense.

Reserves

Sean Mcdermott is likely the first guy off the bench. He’s a 6-6 swingman who shots 43% behind the arc. 6-10 junior Nate Fowler is next. Fowler will step outside with moderate luck, but he’s far more effective on the offensive glass and with his back to the basket. Henry Baddley is a 6-4 guard who is excellent at the line and is 8-12 from deep this year. Like Wideman, he fouls too much to play more.

Three questions

- Is Tre okay? Bluiett has an ORtg of 123 and change on the year, but it’s been since the Colorado game that he posted a number like that in a single outing. Sub-par for Tre is still pretty darn good, and Xavier has won each of those games, but the Muskies need their senior leader back on track.

- Can X force the pace? The Muskies love to play fast. Butler does not. Turnovers and stops lead to transition opportunities on the other end. The more possessions this game has, the more it favors the Musketeers. Unless, of course, Butler shoots 15-22 from behind the arc again.

- Can Xavier spread the defense? Butler doesn’t give up a great deal of three point attempts, but teams shoot well when they get the chance. Xavier shoots the three well, but they don’t shoot it all that often. Butler’s defense is predicated on one shot and forcing turnovers, but Xavier has the ability to shoot them out of it.

Three keys

- Take it seriously. Xavier has come out in a slumber against some lesser opponents lately. The difference in talent between X and DePaul allowed them to dig out of a 16-point second-half hole, but they don’t have that trump card against Butler. X played from the word go against Marquette; they need to bring that same intensity tonight.

- Make Kamar Baldwin a volume scorer. Kelan Martin is realistically going to get his most nights anyway, but Butler’s second-leading scorer can be hassled a bit. Baldwin has shot just 17-55/4-15/5-6 (.309/.267/.833) in Butler’s three losses. He’s only shooting 30% from deep this year; if Xavier has to surrender shots tonight, it might be best to do so to him.

- Use the zone. The ball sticks on Butler’s offense; they’re 10th in the Big East and 273rd in the nation in assist rate. A team with good ball movement and outside shooting is going to be able to pick apart the zone to get clean looks. Butler has neither of those. Expect a healthy dose of non-man defense from Xavier tonight.