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

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X has a chance to punch a ticket to the big dance, send the seniors out with a win, and kick Butler in the hind end. If that's not a hat trick worth going all in for, I don't know what we're doing here.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Creighton
This dang guy.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

We're down to the pointy end of the season and it's still all to play for for both of these teams. Xavier desperately wants a win for any number of reasons: it's fun to beat Butler, they're the 7 seed in the Big East Tournament without it, they can basically clinch an at-large bid, it's senior night, et c.

There are too many seeding possibilities in play to break down in a paragraph or two, but someone else has gone to the trouble of making it a chart and posting it on Twitter:

Butler doesn't have Wednesday in MSG to worry about, but they're desperately trying to re-establish some momentum after starting 15-1 and then going 4-8 through the middle of the conference season. They've won their last two - home games against DePaul and St. John's, who you might recognize as the two worst teams in the league - but haven't looked as crisp as they did before the calendar turned.

Team fingerprint

Butler's defense has been letting them down in conference play, largely because they don't turn anyone over and are fairly permissive from behind the arc. They defend the glass well and lead the league in defensive two-point field goal percentage, but they are prone to putting opponents on the line. Their defensive possessions are the shortest in the league.

On offense, they depend on offensive rebounding and hero ball. They're third in the league on the offensive glass and exactly last in assist rate. They've got a couple of guys who can stick from deep, but overall they're shooting just 32% from behind the arc as a team in league play. Their ball security was airtight in the non-con, but they're just 7th in the Big East in TO%.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Kamar Baldwin Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Junior
6'1", 190 Measurements 6'4", 196
15.6/4.6/3.3 Game line 12.7/4.5/2.9
41.3/31/85.1 Shooting line 46.3/37.3/74.1
Baldwin uses the ball a lot. He shoots more than all but 29 other players in the nation when he's on the floor. He's mildly efficient and he's nails from the line. He'll hunt a step back on the right wing if it's there.
Sean McDermott Shooting Guard Naji Marshall
Senior Class Junior
6'6", 195 Measurements 6'7", 222
12/6.3/1 Game line 16.8/6.3/3.8
48/39.6/87.9 Shooting line 44.6/31/71
McDermott is a shooter who can really pick his spots. He can hit from just about anywhere on the court. Whoever has him has to be switched on at every moment.
Aaron Thompson Small Forward Jason Carter
Junior Class Junior
6'2", 190 Measurements 6'8", 227
7/2.9/4.8 Game line 6.6/1.3/0.8
47.3/7.7/58.7 Shooting line 38.6/36.9/63.2
Thompson is Butler's point guard. He's listed here because it's hard to see Coach Steele using Carter on either McDermott or Baldwin. Can Carter handle Thompson? He's not a shooter, but he moves the ball well and can score in the lane.
Bryce Nze Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Junior Class Freshman
6'7", 235 Measurements 6'9", 225
9.3/6.5/1.4 Game line 7.2/4.2/0.5
62.8/40/59.4 Shooting line 47.2/35.7/77.4
Nze is very efficient inside the arc and will get on the glass to get the garbage points. He's a decent shot blocker who avoids foul trouble well.
Bryce Golden Center Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Senior
6'9", 245 Measurements 6'9", 239
8/3.8/1.2 Game line 13.7/11.1/1.5
50/24.4/68.6 Shooting line 54.5/0/60.2
Golden is the workhorse in the middle of the Butler team. He's active on the offensive glass and moves in and outside to shoot. If he could avoid foul trouble, he'd be much more effective.

Reserves

Jordan Tucker is first off the bench and plays more than Bryce Golden. He’s a forward who shoots well from behind the arc (36%) and the line (80%), but terribly inside the arc (37%). He’s very good on the defensive glass. Henry Baddley is a guard who gets 15 minutes per game and is a slasher who has only made nine threes against teams that aren’t Xavier. Khalif Battle will spell the guards if he plays. Derrik Smits is a seven footer who rebounds well and scores well inside, but can’t block shots at all.

Three questions

  • Can Paul Scruggs go? Xavier's usual starting point guard was out last game, leaving Xavier down a good scorer and defender in a contest it got to a single point on a couple of occasions. Coach Steele said Scruggs would be fine in the post-game presser, but he also said his absence didn't matter against Providence. I'd assume we see Scruggs in uniform tonight, but if his effectiveness is hampered, the Muskies could need more than another 8/1/4 from Q.
  • Can Tyrique Jones get back into high gear? Since his double-double streak ended, Ty has averaged a modest 12 and 9. Those are obviously still good numbers, but the man Coach Steele has described as the heart and soul of the team takes X to the next level when he goes off. He had Butler's front line in disarray at Hinkle, and everyone over about 6'4" would have fouled out if not for a slightly friendly whistle. With this being Senior Night though, Jones's mom should be in attendance.
  • Will Xavier avoid the random hot night? X outplayed Butler at Hinkle with the exception of Henry Baddley - who is shooting 30% from three against non-Xavier teams - going 3 of 3 from deep. Those points count, though, and not being on the scouting report as a threat doesn't keep someone from going off. Aside from Baddely's blinder, the Muskies had a pretty good game plan. If they execute it the same way again, they should be fine.

Three keys

  • Start the game at tip-off. Xavier can play with anyone in the league. They cannot spot anyone in the league the first 5 minutes of the game and expect to come away with anything more than a puncher's chance at clawing back into the game. A frenetic second half run is a lot more fun when it's burying the game rather than scratching back into it. If Xavier goes into the first media timeout down like 10-2, they've set themselves up for another long night.
  • Secure the middle. Butler isn't very shooty, the occasional Henry Baddley outburst aside. They do live in the paint and crash the glass fairly aggressively. If they're going to outscore the Muskies, chances are they're going to do it in the painted area. Clogging it up with bodies is going to be a must.
  • Finish. There's too much on the line to blink for a moment. The Muskies have to start well and end well. If Xavier plays to their potential for 40 minutes, they'll win this game going away.