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

Butler hammered Creighton and then squeaked by Georgetown. What they bring to the Cintas is hard to tell.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier enters this game riding high. After a 2-2 stretch in their last four, which they ended with an incredible comeback against Creighton, they sit at 15-5 (5-4) and in the catbird seat for an NCAA tournament bid. The last time X was over .500 this far into conference play was last season. The less said about that, the better. Right now things look good for the Musketeers.

How things look for Butler is a bit more bleak. This year the Bulldogs have lost to Seton Hall, lost to Xavier, beat Georgetown, lost to Nova, UConn, UConn, and Providence, and then beat Creighton and Georgetown. That leaves them at 4-6 in conference with a 2021 win over DePaul. That’s not a great record, but what a brutal stretch of games.

In their last two Butler have pummeled Creighton on the back of an 18-2 second half run (the Bluejays love themselves a second half collapse) and just barely edged Georgetown in a game in which they scored .81 points per possession. The Bulldogs are 132nd in the NET and going exactly nowhere, but they have won those two straight.

Team fingerprint:

Butler’s offense is appallingly bad. In conference play they are the worst in the Big East. Overall, they are 242nd in the nation in offensive efficiency. The Bulldogs are horrid behind the arc, horrid inside the arc, don’t grab their misses, turn the ball over too much, and get their shots blocked at very nearly the highest rate in the nation. Think of something involved with offense, Got one? Butler is bad at it.

Butler’s defense is actually pretty decent. The Bulldogs are currently 63rd in the nation in defensive efficiency. In conference play, with no Saginaw State games lurking around the corner, the story has been a bit more in keeping with their offense. Butler is eighth in the conference in defense. What they do well is cause turnovers and defensive rebound. Teams shoot well against them, though, so their strength lies in keeping teams from shooting.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Aaron Thompson Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Senior
"6'2"", 190" Measurements "6'5"", 198"
7.5/2.8/4.1 Game line 11.7/4.7/4.4
47.4/13.3/47.9 Shooting line 40.5/31.7/71.2
Fun fact: Thompson's ORtg peaked in his sophomore year. Since then, I think the book has been out a bit on how to defend him, since his scoring range is about the same as his wingspan. Despite that, he went ham last time these teams played, dropping 20 and shooting 9-10 from inside the arc. He's a tough defender and an excellent distributor, he just never developed a jumper to speak of. Turnovers have been a bit of an issue for him in conference play.
Chuck Harris Shooting Guard Nate Johnson
Sophomore Class Senior
"6'2"", 195" Measurements "6'4"", 192"
10.6/2.9/1.7 Game line 10.9/2.7/1.1
34.8/31/78.4 Shooting line 44.5/42.1/72.7
I feel like Harris's numbers don't convey how good a shooter he is, but maybe they just undersell how scared of his jumper I am on a personal level. He hit 40% from deep last year, but his percentages are down across the board this season. He makes it up in volume though; nobody on Butler and only two players in the Big East have a higher shots% than he does. He has shot 33 more times in 2 fewer games than Nate Johnson and ended up with 27 fewer points to shot for it.
Bo Hodges Small Forward Colby Jones
Senior Class Sophomore
"6'5"", 210" Measurements "6'6"", 207"
7.1/5.6/0.9 Game line 9/5.2/1.4
41.7/23.5/50 Shooting line 43.6/15/72.4
Hodges is a tough defender and an excellent rebounding wing who has had real trouble staying healthy in his two years at Butler. He has the capacity to take a team out of its sets by taking a player out of the shuffle with his defensive intensity. On offense, he's a relentless slasher with a mediocre jumper. He can be a little foul prone, but health is the biggest thing keeping him off the court.
Bryce Nze Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Junior
"6'7"", 235" Measurements "6'9"" 220"
8.2/5.9/1.6 Game line 9/5.2/1.4
42.5/31.4/51.9 Shooting line 43.6/15/72.4
Nze is an excellent rebounder and a fairly solid rim protector. He has been nursing a shoulder injury this season, which you know if you watched the first game between these two teams because the announcers couldn't stop mentioning it. He's mostly an around the rim scorer, but his jumper is just good enough to compel defenders to respect it. He's a career 48% free throw shooter.
Bryce Golden Center Jack Nunge
Senior Class Junior
"6'9"", 245" Measurements "7'0"" 245"
9.1/3.9/0.6 Game line 12.7/7.2/0.7
54.6/38.2/69.4 Shooting line 53.5/33.3/77.6
For as stout a lad as he is, Golden is not a good rebounder. He's active on the offensive glass but fairly absent on the defensive end. A career 27% three-point shooter, he's hitting 43% this season. He has 6 blocks on the year; not a rim protector.

Reserves

Freshman Jayden Taylor is having a respectable first campaign, averaging 8.6/2.7/1.3. He's a 6'4" shooting guard who splits his shots almost evenly between the rim and the arc, though he's below average from each. Jair Bolden is the opposite in a lot of ways. He's a senior guard who takes more than 70% of his shots from deep and only about 5% from the rim. He's got a meager 34.5/33.7/91.7 shooting line on the year. Despite their struggles, he and Taylor are 2nd and 3rd on the team in FGA.

Simas Lukosius is a freshman who can play almost anywhere on the court. After an unimpressive non-conference campaign, he has come on strong, averaging 8.3 per game in Big East play. He has good ball skills and a respectable shot; my guess is that at some point before he graduates I'm really going to resent his presence on the floor.

Senior big man Ty Groce provides cover in the frontcourt. He's 6'8", 220, and averages 4.8/2.7/0.6. He shoots more threes than twos despite shooting 27% from deep both this season and on his career. Myles Wilmoth and Christian David will also get a few minutes at the forward positions; they've combined for 44 points and 45 boards this year.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier keep the momentum? In case you don’t remember, Xavier’s last 20 minutes of basketball were a showcase of brilliance. There was a 17 point deficit overturned, a 19-0 run that burgeoned to 29-2, and 11 minutes of defense without allowing a field goal. It was incredible to watch. Play something like that to start against Butler and X could match Villanova’s 40 point win over the Bulldogs.

- What is the status of the lineup? Travis Steele cannot just run the starters out there and hope for a 29-2 run each time. That is not going to happen. Xavier also has the problem of slow starts, of needing to get Adam Kunkel and Jerome Hunter minutes, and where to fit defensive destroyer and offensive liability Dwon Odom in. It’s better than trying to make five guys into an eight man rotation, but there are some issues still to sort here.

- Can Xavier avoid a slip up here? No. We’ve mentioned the last couple weeks that going 1-1 was ok and wouldn’t hurt our beloved metrics. That’s not the case here. Losing this game would put a very serious blemish on Xavier’s record and remove the possibility of a protected seed. Losing wouldn’t knock the Musketeers onto the bubble, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a must win game. Good teams don’t lose to Butler at home.

Three keys:

- Manipulate the matchups: Xavier went on their massive run on Saturday when Travis Steele moved Jack Nunge outside and forced Ryan Kalkbrenner into a gangly retelling of Sophie’s Choice. If he does the same thing again and Bryce Golden follow Nunge outside, Zach Freemantle will dominate Bryce Nze. If he slides Freemantle outside it’s hard not to see Nunge working over Golden. Conversely, Jerome Hunter could start again and give Xavier’s two headed post a chance to take turns inside on Golden and force Nze to come out of rebounding position to guard a perimeter player.

- Rebound: The only way Butler stays in this game is if they get hot and they keep Xavier off the offensive glass. The Musketeers aren’t a terribly strong offensive rebounding team, but their relentless effort in the second half against Creighton paid dividends. If the Musketeers can grab a third of their misses it’s hard to see a scenario in which Butler’s defense holds up.

- Punch down: Butler is bad this year, Lavall Jordan seems lost, and the Bulldogs have one Q1 win. Xavier should win this, and handily. Put the game away early, let Ben Stanley see some court time, and head into the weekend with a chance to move to 7-4 in conference.