Somehow, the regular season is over yet. When this game is done, Xavier, and the rest of the basketball world, enter a series of knockout games. Lose in the Big East tournament and you won’t take home the title that has eluded X so far. Lose in the next one and the season is over. One final test remains, though. Xavier is playing this one to protect seeding. Butler is playing it for pride.
Butler has been bad this year. They will be either eighth or ninth in the upcoming BET. It doesn’t really matter which, because those two teams will play each other for the chance to play Marquette. That’s not much of a reward. From February 1st on, Butler is 155th in the nation in adjusted efficiency. Xavier is 11th. Butler’s offense in that time is 33rd. Somehow, the Bulldogs have won three games in that span, including one against Xavier.
Thad Matta took over a team that had gone from very good under Lavall Jordan to very bad under Lavall Jordan. Unlike Sean Miller at Xavier, he hasn’t shown the ability to get the best out of his players and take them to a new level. In fact, Butler is marginally worse this year than they were last.
The reason Butler is so bad is their offense. It’s appalling. In conference play they are averaging .902 points per possession, good for dead last in the Big East and far behind Georgetown, in 10th with .972 ppp. Butler is 10th in three point shooting, last in two point shooting, fifth (yay!) in free throw percentage, and no higher than seventh in the conference in any other major offensive category. Their offense is just bad.
Their defense is... less bad, I guess? Butler will get after three point shooters and doesn’t allow many shots from there or many makes. Beyond that, they get gashed inside and don’t rebound well. They will force turnovers at a decent rate (17.8% in conference play), and they don’t send their opponents to the line much. This all points to a pretty poor team but they somehow already beat Xavier once.
|Eric Hunter Jr.||Point Guard||Souley Boum|
|6'4", 170||Measurements||6'3", 175|
|Kind of a PG by default, Hunter turns the ball over too much and doesn't distribute enough to profile as a pure one. He's like Chris Arcidiacono without the legacy credits in that he's almost completely invisible on the offensive end. His usage rate in league games is under 15%. He doesn't get into foul trouble and plays a ton of minutes.|
|Jayden Taylor||Shooting Guard||Adam Kunkel|
|6'4", 195||Measurements||6'4", 185|
|Taylor is as close to an out-and-out gunner as Butler has, leading the team in shots percentage in Big East play by almost four percentage points. He draws a lot of fouls and gets to the line well, but he's throwing up a pretty miserable 43.6% EFG% in league games and doesn't have a lot of secondary offensive skills. To his credit, he's a solid defender.|
|Ali Ali||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|6'8", 205||Measurements||6'6", 205|
|Ali has struggled with concussion issues off and on this year and missed the Marquette game with them. After being solid on big usage at Akron last season, he has been a bit of a bust at Butler this year. He hasn't shot well from anywhere on the floor and has continued his mediocre rebounding numbers. It's hard to say how much has been concussion related and how much has been just not being able to make the jump in levels, but he's not been a bright spot for Thad Matta.|
|Simas Lukosius||Power Forward||Jerome Hunter|
|6'7", 225||Measurements||6'8", 215|
|Ugh. Probably the most hateable Butler player. He's not especially big or tough or good on the glass, but he is obnoxious. He can shoot it well enough at all three levels to be worth keeping an eye on, but he's not going to go get his own shot on a reliable basis. He's not a great defender, though he does stay out of foul trouble. He's basically Diet Andrew Chrabascz.|
|Manny Bates||Center||Jack Nunge|
|6'11", 240||Measurements||7'0" 245|
|Bates is a big dude and a pretty good defender. He doesn't feature much on offense, which doesn't make a ton of sense because he's far and away leading the team in ORtg in Big East play and also just in general. He doesn't have a ton of range, but he's a ferocious finisher at the rim if he's given space to jump.|
If Ali Ali doesn't start, Jalen Thomas will. He's averaging 6.1/4.7/0.5 in about 20 minutes per game and has started 11 times. At 6'11", 230, he's an excellent rebounder and decent rim protector, but he can be a little foul prone. He's shooting 83.3% from the line this season.
Guard Chuck Harris is averaging 10.6/3.2/2.4 on a nightmarish shooting line that has added up to a 39.9% EFG% in league play. He's a legitimate gunner who substitutes volume for accuracy. He has scored 18 points in 4 games since coming back from injury, so look for him to go for about 30 today.
Myles Tate and Connor Turnbull will get some minutes as deep bench options. Pierce Thomas was getting decent on the wing before Big East play, but that has fallen off precipitously to the point that he has gotten 1 minute per game in the last 12.
-Will Zach Freemantle play? This has been the question for about a month; the only reason it's making an appearance now is that the answer has gone from no to maybe. Sean Miller said they were holding "an outside hope" that Zach would suit up in this game. You'd hope he gets his legs under him before single-elimination play.
-Can Xavier slow down Manny Bates? Bates is big and athletic, and he dropped 19 on 9-10 shooting at Hinkle and threw in 5 blocks for good measure. He was all over the place on both ends, and that really slowed down the Muskies' comeback after their somnambulant start to the game. They need to run some different looks at him this time rather than leaving Nunge on an island against him.
-How did Xavier lose to this team? I'm sorry, this just isn't a very good basketball team. X came out flat and never got back over the hump. I watched it and couldn't figure out what was happening and how. On paper, this should be a walkover. It didn't go that way at Hinkle, and it won't go that way for free at Cintas.
-Come out strong. I know Xavier is better than Butler. You know Xavier is better than Butler. Xavier and Butler know Xavier is better than Butler. We also all know that Butler has already beaten Xavier once, and the longer they stay in the game, the more they'll believe they can do it again. This game has the potential to turn into the kind of perfunctory beating that ends with the walk-ons in, but it has to start well first.
-Be prepared for a zone. Xavier has slashed a number of man defenses to pieces, but they've struggled at times against a zone. Ed Cooley had X in trouble in the second half with a zone before he decided to gift them the #2 seed in the Big East by going back man. I suspect Butler will switch up defenses a time or two, and it would be nice to see Xavier show up looking like they were ready for that.
-Finish the regular season strong. It's all about wrapping up the last remnants of the resume at this point for Xavier. For the first time since Chris Mack was the coach, X enters March with an at-large bid sewn up, but dropping a pair to Butler would be an embarrassing black mark on the resume when it comes time for seeds to be announced. After being the first time to win at Providence in over a year, Xavier needs to stay locked in and bury this game.