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

Xavier just got one, Butler just lost one, both teams need one.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Butler
Boo this man
Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Butler is this season’s Big East media darling. On Twitter they are hailed, they’ve received votes in the polls, they’re in on a couple of brackets in Bracket Matrix. Butler is back, say The People Who Know These Things.

Butler is 63rd in the KenPom, 62nd in the NET, and 51st in Torvik. They’ve beaten Marquette and Texas Tech and not much of anyone else. That 11-6 record is bolstered by five Q4 wins and one non-D1 win. In the first NET the Bulldogs were 38th. As they continue to be back and, according to multiple Big East rankings on Twitter, better than Xavier, they have dropped 25 places.

That doesn’t mean this is going to somehow be a cakewalk for the Musketeers. This game is a Q2 at home, where Xavier has already lost two Q3 games. Butler might not be great, but they are a lot better than Oakland and Delaware. Xavier rolled Providence this weekend; Butler ran Seton Hall close but ultimately lost at home. There are no easy games in the Big East.

Team fingerprint

Butler is a mediocre shooting team that doesn’t get on the glass much. They’re 46th in the nation in offensive efficiency, though, because they don’t miss at the line and they don’t turn the ball over. Their offense is just kind of there. They’ve scored a point per possession twice in their last five games. That’s not to say they can’t run off points in a hurry, they just don’t often.

Defensively Butler is a mess. They’re 102nd nationally in defensive efficiency. They defend the arc reasonably well, but they get beaten up inside, they get gashed on the glass, and they don’t force turnovers or block shots. They do keep teams away from the line and do a decent job keeping teams from moving the ball terribly well, but this isn’t a good defense.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Posh Alexander Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Senior Class Senior
6'0", 204 Measurements 6'0", 188
10.6/4.2/5.2 Game line 9.5/4.3/5.3
43.4/25.6/77.6 Shooting line 41.1/31.3/81.3
We know he's an incredible defender, but Posh has never made the leap on the offensive end that he seemed on the precipice of after a strong sophomore year. A career 25% shooter from deep (heads up, Kim English!), he needs to be able to finish around the rim to be effective on offense. He did that to the tune of 67% as a sophomore, but he's down to 52% at the rim this year. He has a solid pull-up game and distributes well, but the bulk of his value is at the defensive end.
DJ Davis Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Senior Class Senior
6'1", 175 Measurements 6'3", 200
13/2.9/2.5 Game line 17.8/4.8/1.7
42.6/37.4/96.1 Shooting line 44.4/41.3/81.1
A UC Irvine transfer, Davis has made the jump to the high-major level without skipping a beat. He's a career 89% free throw shooter who has only missed two this season, though he's not prolific in getting to the line. He's a solid finisher, but more than half of his shots come from behind the arc. After dropping 81 points in his first 4 Big East games, he's had 8 total points in his last two times out. Maybe he is starting to skip a beat, though I've just guaranteed he drops 30 tonight.
Pierre Brooks Small Forward Desmond Claude
Junior Class Sophomore
6'6", 240 Measurements 6'6", 203
16.1/4.1/1.1 Game line 15.2/4.9/3.7
48.1/41.1/76.2 Shooting line 42.2/27.8/72
In addition to being thicker than the windows on a submarine and a Michigan State transfer, Brooks is Butler's most complete offensive player. He is a legitimate three-level scorer and he hasn't missed a free throw in Big East play so far. He never turns the ball over, though a cynic might note that he also never distributes. He's less present on the glass than you might think a man of his breadth would be, but he's at Butler to get buckets, and he does.
Jahmyl Telfort Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Senior Class Senior
6'7", 225 Measurements 6'7", 220
13.9/4.6/3 Game line 7.1/5/1
43.5/36.2/85.2 Shooting line 48.4/46.4/64.3
Late of Northeastern, Telforst has been a solid presence in the frontcourt for Butler. His numbers are a bit inflated from the non-conference schedule; he's averaging 10 PPG with an ORtg of 90 in league play. He's not a great rebounder by rate, and he's not much of a rim protector. He does distribute pretty well for a big man and he's excellent from the line. His 3P% is a little inflated from going 3-3 from deep against Saginaw Valley State.
Jalen Thomas Center Abou Ousmane
Senior Class Senior
6'10", 240 Measurements 6'10", 240
6.5/6.8/0.6 Game line 8.4/6.6/0.9
51.1/12.5/72.2 Shooting line 51.3/0/50
Butler's best rebounder, and it's not that close. The Bulldogs bring one more legitimate rebounding big off the bench, but it's mostly just Thomas and a bunch of guard-level dudes on the boards. He's not inefficient on offense, but he doesn't hear his number called much. He's a good rim protector, but he can be a bit foul prone. Like every other starter, he didn't begin his career at Butler, having spent three years at Georgia State two seasons ago.

Bench

Not too much. Butler gets about a quarter of their minutes off the bench, which is hovering around 300th in the nation. Bucknell transfer big man Andre Screen gets the post minutes off the pine. In about 13 minutes per game, he posts 6.8/4.9/0.1 on 64% shooting. He’s a monster on the glass at both ends, likely due to the fact that he’s 7’1”, 255. He’s a good rim protector who can be a little foul prone and he can turn the ball over a bit, but he fills a need for the Bulldogs.

Landon Moore and Finley Bizjack (no, I promise) are the bench guards. Moore gives 5.5/1.8/1.2 and is shooting more than 40% from behind the arc. Bizjack is a good finisher but erodes his efficiency by being 6-31 from behind the arc. Neither player distributes much of leaps off the page for his defensive stats.

Aside from those three guys, Butler has gotten 14 bench minutes in their 6 Big East games.

Three questions

- Is Trey Green unleashed? Green is already using the ball more than any other Xavier player when he is on the court. In conference play his ORtg is 123.5 and he’s shooting 46.2% behind the arc. The 23 minutes he played against Providence were the most he’d logged since before Thanksgiving. If he’s healthy and confident, he’s a game changer.

- Does Xavier have an unsung hero? Dayvion McKnight has done a lot of the heavy lifting for X this year without ever really getting his name in lights. He’s steady on the ball, shooting well, and playing good defense. Having him roaming behind Dailyn Swain made the press effective. That brings us to...

- Is the press going to be effective against Butler? The Bulldogs don’t turn the ball over much. Their offense is predicated on taking care of the ball and making their free throws. That said, X’ press isn’t always there to force turnovers. Providence had a 14.9% turnover rate in a game that Xavier’s press changed. Judicious application of high pressure forced the Friars into big turnovers, but it also really threw sand in the gears of their offense. The same could happen tonight.

Three keys

-Play inside out. Butler employs an amorphous matchup zone or switching 1-4 man defense that has a tendency to stagnate offenses and force teams into isolation. They had a ton of success with it against Marquette, holding them to .85 PPP and Tyler Kolek to 2/3/8, but they wouldn’t be 9th in the league in AdjD if it were bulletproof. Xavier’s offense relies on a lot of body movement to pull defenses out of position, and that might not happen if Butler just switches. The remedy to that is more likely to be found at the high post than in hero ball for the Muskies.

-Believe in second chances. Butler is the 9th-best defensive rebounding team in the 11-team Big East; Xavier rules the roost in offensive rebounding. Xavier was good on the offensive glass against a good defensive rebounding team in Providence last time out; they can have a decisive advantage in that department tonight.

-Keep the pedal pinned. Slow starts to halves have been a repetitive issue for Xavier this season, but they were up 9-4 out of the gate against Providence and opened the second half with a 20-3 run that you might remember. Butler is no pushover, but these are the kind of games that Xavier needs to be winning handily if they want to maintain a late-season surge. A Xavier team at its best can still make an at-large resume come together; they would be well served not to give Butler an early foothold in this game.