Two years ago, the Butler Bulldogs kicked off their first campaign following back-to-back national championship appearances with an upset loss on the road to the University of Evansville. That overtime defeat set the tone for a 22-15 season and a trip to the CBI. They look to avoid the same fate this season before Big East play begins on New Year's Eve.
Kellen Dunham is averaging almost 20 points a game and starting to get recognition beyond Hinkle Fieldhouse. He was the Big East Player of the Week last week. Khyle Marshall is second on the team with 17.1 points per game.
One of Dunham's underrated qualities is his ability to stay on the floor. He's not a great defender (just seven steals and two blocks this season), but he only commits one foul per 40 minutes. That's the lowest rate in the Big East. Dunham's foul rate is especially important for Butler since the shooting guard averages 35.2 minutes per game. A couple quick first-half fouls would remove the Bulldogs' biggest scoring threat. Thankfully for Butler fans that hasn't been an issue this season.
Butler has picked up the pace a bit since returning from the Old Spice Classic. Games against North Dakota and Purdue featured 75 and 73 possessions, respectively. That's more possessions (in regulation) than in any other contest this year. Butler hasn't played in a more up-tempo game since November 2010, an 88-73 loss to Louisville.
The Purple Aces knocked off Butler in 2010 and 2011. Last year, the Bulldogs handled Evansville at home behind 20 point outbursts by Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith. UE is 6-5, with five losses in its past six games. No wins over any impressive opponents, but they looked a lot better against Xavier (63-60 loss) than in a 77-46 drubbing to Indiana.
As a team, Evansville gets to the line an awful lot. They rank 22nd in the country in free throw rate. A lot of that is freshman guardDuane Gibson, who actually has had more foul shots (61) than field goal attempts (57). The offense flows through Balentine, however, who is putting up 22.8 a contest. He's played 40 minutes in three of the past four games, but is coming off his worst scoring output of the season (12 points) against Jackson State.
KenPom: Butler 70, Evansville 66 (68 percent chance of victory)
Once teams decided to focus more on Balentine, Evansville has struggled. He averaged 27.2 in a five-game winning streak to start the year. Since then, his point totals have dropped into the teens and the Purple Aces are losing to the likes of Murray State and Jackson State.
Barlow plays a key role in shutting down Balentine and Butler avoids its third upset in four years.
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