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Game Preview: Xavier vs. Butler

Former MCC and A10 members renew rivalry in Big East

The Musketeers and Bulldogs Split Two Games Last Season
The Musketeers and Bulldogs Split Two Games Last Season
Michael Hickey

Teams: Xavier (11-3) vs. Butler (10-3)

Day: Saturday, Jan. 4

Time: 2:00 PM ET

Location: Cintas Center; Cincinnati, OH

TV: FOX Sports Ohio

Four Factors




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Previously together in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and Atlantic 10, Xavier and Butler renew their rivalry, this time as members of the Big East. The contest in Cincinnati marks the second Big East game for each school; Xavier defeated St. John’s and Butler lost in overtime to Villanova on Tuesday. For the Musketeers to extend their winning streak to seven games, they will need to continue to rely on their frontcourt play, depth, and defense.

Ever since Xavier’s three game losing streak in the Bahamas this November, coach Chris Mack has focused his offensive game plan around big men Matt Stainbrook, Isaiah Philmore, James Farr, and Jalen Reynolds. The quartet has varying skill sets; Stainbrook and Philmore crafty scorers, Farr an outside shooter, Reynolds an elite athlete. Butler has an undersized frontcourt, with starting forwards Khyle Marshall, Erik Fromm, and Kameron Woods all weighing in less than 223 pounds. The Bulldogs have been effective on the defensive glass this season, collecting 24.4% of their opponents missed shots, good for 7th in the nation. However, the Musketeers should be able to utilize their size, following an offensive game plan similar to Villanova, who saw their frontcourt starters account for 30 points on Tuesday.

With the officiating emphasis on hand-checking fouls this season, bench depth holds more of a value than in previous campaigns. Xavier relies heavily on their bench; Chris Mack’s bench has accounted for 37.4% of total minutes (60th most nationally) according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. Conversely, Butler first year coach Brandon Miller’s bench has only accounted for 25.4% of total minutes. That trend is reminiscint of Butler’s 2010 and 2011 national runner-up teams, whose bench minute percentages were 23.3% and 27.6%, respectfully. A player to watch off the Bulldog bench is Elijah Brown, son of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. The freshman is coming off a season high 19 points, but has been plagued by inconsistency; he has four double figure-scoring games and four games where he has scored two or fewer points. Xavier’s bench has seen double figures scoring efforts from Myles Davis, James Farr, Jalen Reynolds, and Isaiah Philmore (in a rare non-start).

For the Musketeers to rattle off their seventh consecutive win, they would benefit from another strong defensive effort. Xavier has held five of their last six opponents to under one point per possession. Butler is not a strong offensive team, shooting a mediocre 33.8% from behind the arc, and assisting on less than half of their made field goals. The Bulldogs limit their turnovers, but Xavier’s defensive strategy of pack-line defense doesn’t place a high emphasis on creating turnovers. Rather, the Musketeers can succeed by forcing Butler to take jump shots. Leading scorer Kellen Dunham will likely see a variety of Musketeer defenders, with fresh legs being able to aid in containing the sharp shooter.

On paper, Saturday’s matchup looks like a favorable one for the Musketeers. Butler doesn’t have a player on their roster that can physically contain Stainbrook. If the Musketeers can contain Dunham, the Bulldogs may struggle scoring against Xavier’s stout defense, which is coming off a game where they held St. John’s to a 30.6% field goal clip. While there has been some personnel turnover, the teams split two meetings last year, with each squad protecting their home floor.