For the second straight year, the Butler Bulldogs fell to the Villanova Wildcats in the New Year's Eve Big East Tip-Off. Unlike last year, however, the Wildcats didn't need overtime to knock the Bulldogs off, winning 67-55. At the half, Butler trimmed the lead to four points. That was deceiving, however.
Upon watching this game, it felt like Villanova led by eight to ten points for the entire game. Butler was overmatched, plain and simple. That's not a bad thing -- Villanova is one of the six best teams in the nation, but Butler can make some adjustments and give the Wildcats a better game next time they meet if they key in on the following things.
When delving deeper into the actual numbers on the offensive side of the ball, let's split things up into what the Bulldogs did well and what the team needs to work on going forward (all numbers taken from the advanced stats geniuses over at kenpom.com)
What Went Well
I'll try not to get overly negative, but honestly, there wasn't much. This team has dominated on the offensive boards all season, as evidenced by their 36.3 percent offensive rebounding percentage, which is the 47th highest mark in the nation. That's a terrific statistic, meaning that roughly one in every three Butler shot attempts results in an offensive rebound.
The Bulldogs stuck to that script against Villanova, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds compared to just three from the Wildcats. When the offense wasn't hitting at a very high clip (more on that later), it was Butler's nose for second-chance opportunities that kept them in the game, especially in the first half. Usually it's Kameron Woods, who's basically just a human vacuum when it comes to rebounding, that leads the charge on the offensive boards, but on Wednesday it was Roosevelt Jones who pulled down a game-high five rebounds on that end of the floor.
Considering that the Bulldogs were battling with JayVaughn Pinkston, who has the body of a freight train and serves as one of the better rebounders in the Big East, and Daniel Ochefu, who's probably one of the best rebounders in the country, this is an impressive feat.
As far as individual performances go, it was Andrew Chrabascz who showed out once again with 12 points and five rebounds. With Chrabascz, it's all about efficiency, and out of all Bulldog players who took at least three shots, he posted the highest individual offensive rating with a 112. To put that into perspective, Ken Pomeroy describes the interpretation of this measurement as "anything over 110 is good, and 120 is excellent for a player that is the workhorse on his team." (While we're here, I should probably point out that both Pinkston (129) and Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacano (124) each had offensive ratings in the 120's)
I've been singing Chrabascz's over the last two weeks, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, it's getting pretty clear that he needs to get more touches on the offensive end. He boasts a really versatile game, with the ability to take defenders into the post with his back to the basket, a nice face-up game and the a nice shooting touch that lets him space the floor all the way out to the 3-point line. If the Bulldogs are looking for a way to improve their offensive efficiency, and they need to, it might start with Chrabascz down low.
What Went Poorly
You know that point towards the end of Revenge of the Sith where we already know that everything's about to fall apart, but we're still holding out for the good guys anyway? That's kind of what Butler's offense looked like on Wednesday.
The Wildcats did a terrific job of handling the Bulldogs down low, and the team connected on only 16 of their 45 two-point shot attempts during the game. For those keeping track, that's dismal 35.6 percent clip from within the 3-point line. The main culprit was Jones, who finished with eight points on 4-15 shooting. Jones has always had an ugly looking shot, but his touch of floaters and runners has been so good in the past that it didn't matter. The guy is the king of hitting shots that look like they have no chance of going in.
Only they didn't go in against Villanova. In a lot of cases, Jones would bring the ball up and go straight to hole, even with his teammates open on the perimeter, and just chuck up the first open look he could find. A lot of times, it looks like he's trying to draw a foul in contact, but he rarely gets the call. Frankly, Jones isn't a good enough free throw shooter to pull moves like that, and tossing up a bad shot crushes Butler's offensive momentum, regardless of how good they are at grabbing offensive rebounds.
While we're talking about free throws, the Bulldogs only got to the line to shoot eight attempts at the charity stripe. In contrast, Villanova had 26 free throw attempts, which helped them pull away late. Part of this can be chalked up to Nova's clean defensive approach, but Butler has to get to the line more often. It's a bit of a "caught between a rock and hard place" situation, since the team struggles at the line beyond Kellen Dunham and Chrabascz, but free throw opportunities are a big part of winning basketball.
Other issues on Wednesday included a low number of assists and a high turnover count. The Bulldogs finished with just eight assists compared to Villanova's 17, and ball movement, or lack thereof, didn't help their efficiency. I understand that Dunham was consistently getting trapped throughout the game, which made it difficult to get him open looks, but they've got to at least run something offensively. Too many possessions in end in isolation looks, which are terribly inefficient, especially since Dunham often struggles when shooting off-balance and not squaring up. Butler has the most offensive weapons they've had in a few years, but they have to figure how to maximize their effectiveness.
The Bulldogs struggled in the turnover margin also, coughing up 14 turnovers compared to Villanova's nine. Six of them came from Jones and guard Alex Barlow, which is troubling since they serve as the two lead ballhandlers for this team. This may be an isolated incident for Barlow, but it didn't help the Bulldogs as they tried to play catch-up in the second half.
Overall, Villanova is one of the top squads in the country, and the Bulldogs were able to hang in for the first half, which is encouraging. However, it's pretty clear that the team has a few bad habits to kick over the remaining Big East schedule.
At first glance, Butler doesn't seem to have been awful on the defensive side of the ball. They had 23 defensive rebounds, and only gave up three offensive rebounds to the Wildcats. According to KenPom, Villanova's OR% was 12. For reference, Division 1 average for OR% is 31.3%.
Butler's main problem defensively was that they simply couldn't keep up with Villanova's depth. 'Nova had four players reach double figures, and Darrun Hilliard was right there with eight points. If a team has balanced scoring like that, they'll be tough to stop.
Butler was also only able to force nine turnovers against the Wildcats, whom had roughly 65 possessions in the game. That averages out to a turnover percentage of 14.1 percent, six percent below the Division 1 average of 20 percent. Villanova is a smart team and they take care of the ball, if you don't force them to make mistakes, they will take advantage.
Finally, Villanova absolutely destroyed the Bulldogs from inside the three-point line. Going 18-27 for a 66.7 percentage from in there. As I said, they're a smart team who takes smart shots, and that was on display Wednesday.
No one on Butler was great defensively, but Kameron Woods was the leader of the pack. He had five rebounds and three steals. He's generally much more of a presence on the boards, averaging nine a game so far this year, but Villanova's solid big men helped neutralize him.
Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston was a matchup nightmare for the Bulldogs, he had 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting, and added five points from the free throw line. Pinkston is a great player, so he's hard to contain, but it definitely could not have been the outcome the Bulldogs were looking for.
What really sunk Butler was the third quarter of the game, if you will. The period of time from the beginning of the second half to the 10 minute mark was when Villanova opened their lead up from four points to 14 points.