1. Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of the toughest places to play in the entire country. Butler is 241-41 thee since 1995-1996, and their current seniors are 42-15 at home. Additionally, Big East home teams are 9-1 in conference play so far. What will be the biggest key for Providence to be able to go into Hinkle and steal this game?
Mike Murtaugh (Butler): If Providence can take away the paint for Butler, they'll be able to stay in control defensively. The Bulldogs seem to struggle when they can't get into the lane, and they'll lose their edge if the Friars start forcing Roosevelt Jones to take bad shots and Kellen Dunham to start chucking blindly from deep. As for home-court advantage, it's going to be all about controlling Butler's runs. As with all home squads, the crowd gets most involved when the team is putting together a streak of points, and Hinkle can be absolutely deafening if the crowd gets into the game. If the Friars can keep responding with points of their own, the fieldhouse can be kept in check.
Chris Fairfield (Providence): The Friars seemed extremely offensively challenged when they played against Marquette. There were turnovers left and right and they were missing three point shots by the dozen. Although LaDontae Henton had plenty of points, he shot a low percentage from the field and those shots needed to go to Tyler Harris. Tyler is astronomically better than he was last year, but he has not gotten the number of shots he deserved. LaDontae is the best offensive player for the Friars, but Tyler is the second best scorer on the team and he deserves more than five shots like he had in their game versus Marquette. Providence is such a better team when Tyler is involved so look for him to get more shots or even re enter the starting lineup.
Robert O'Neill (Butler): I think Mike put it best, if Providence can make Kellen Dunham take ill-advised shots, they can steal this game. We've seen that before from Dunham where he gets double teamed and either turns the ball over or tries to shoot out of it. There's also always a chance that Henton and Kris Dunn will be an unstoppable tandem and that, alone, will defeat Butler.
2. Providence's Ladontae Henton is one of the best scorers in the country. What can Butler do to neutralize his offensive game?
Mike Murtaugh: Here's a stat that should have every team in the Big East on edge: through the first two games of the conference schedule, Henton is averaging 31.5 points and 6.5 rebounds on 47.3 percent shooting from three-point range. He has four straight games with over 25 points, and the only team that was able to truly erase him from the game plan was No. 1 Kentucky, because of course they did. Honestly, the Bulldogs will have to treat Henton they way they treated St. John's' D'Angelo Harrison, by sticking Kameron Woods on him on the perimeter and trying to keep him from crashing into the paint. Henton's going to get his points, but Butler has to at least make things difficult for him.
Christopher Fairfield: LaDontae Henton did not get the nickname "Buckets" for no reason. He can score everywhere on the court but in my opinion, he is deadliest when he gets inside the paint because he has an amazing touch around the rim. LaDontae is also a good three point shooter but can sometimes be streaky from beyond the arc. I would expect Butler to guard LaDontae Henton in a tight man to man defense to make sure he doesn't get the ball. If he does happen to have the ball in his hands the defender should back of a little to make him take three point shots instead of playing tight defense so LaDontae can go to the basket to get a layup or get fouled.
Robert O'Neill: Honestly, this might be a similar situation for how Butler handled St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison. Let Henton do what he wants, focus on stopping the second and third scoring options. Harrison had 31 points against the Bulldogs, but they still won the game because they were able to slow down those other options. If Butler keys in on Tyler Harris and Kris Dunn instead, they will be just fine.
3. What has surprised you most about Providence so far in the two Big East games?
Mike Murtaugh: It's unfair to call what Henton's done this season a "surprise", but I can't say I expected him to be this dominant as the new face of the Friars with Bryce Cotton (now with the Austin Spurs of the NBA D-League) gone. He's fully embraced his alpha dog status, raising his points per game numbers from last season by a full seven points (14.0 to 21.5) and his field goal percentage by over 4 percent (44.6 percent to 48.8 percent). Henton's taking six more shots per game, destroying teams at the rim and from deep, and still averaging five rebounds per game. Henton's been a marvel, and is making an early case for Big East Player of the Year.
Christopher Fairfield: I haven't really been that surprised by Providence even though they could have played much better against Marquette. Providence beat Creighton at home by twelve as expected and I thought the Friars had a bad game to have their first Big East loss of the season. It seems that home court advantage plays a big role in college basketball and a win in Hinkle Fieldhouse would be a tremendous confidence booster for the Friars.
Robert O'Neill: As Mike said, I don't think anyone thought, before the year, Henton would elevate his game THIS much. He's emerged as a great scoring threat for the Friars and one of the best players, not only in the conference, but in the entire country.
4. What has surprised you most about Butler so far in the two Big East games?
Mike Murtaugh: For me, one of the best surprises about this Butler team has been the way senior guard Alex Barlow has come alive in conference play. A lot was written before the season about Barlow sliding into the shooting guard role for the Bulldogs in certain lineups, and after shooting 37 percent from deep last season, he struggled to make an impact towards the end of the non-conference schedule with seven straight games without double digit scoring. He hit just five of his 25 three-point attempts during that same seven game stretch after the Battle 4 Atlantis, but in first two Big East this season, Barlow has gone 5-11 from three with two straight double-digit performances. The Bulldogs need him to help stretch the floor when Dunham gets double teamed, and it's been great to see him get hot again.
Chris Fairfield: Butler's win against St. John's probably surprised everyone who follows the Big East and their loss against Villanova on the road was an extremely likely outcome. Butler has been one of the most impressive teams in the Big East and is the only team in the conference with a road win. They look like a team that will easily make the tournament and the Bulldogs should have all the confidence in the world going into their matchup against the Friars.
Robert O'Neill: For me, the biggest surprise for the Bulldogs has been how well they responded to adversity. They dropped a tough road game to Villanova, then responded with a big win on the road against St. John's. Last season, you wouldn't have seen the Bulldogs do that, and I think that's what Chris Holtmann really brings to this team. That "grind it out, toughness, fall down seven times stand up eight" mentality that's especially key to have in a conference like the Big East.
5. Who wins this game, and why?
Mike Murtaugh: I'm going with the Bulldogs, but it's going to be close. It's going to be great fun watching Dunham and Henton trade blows for their squads, and it's going to be a physical game. However, Butler is incredibly difficult to beat at home, and they did a lot of really nice things against a ranked St. John's team. The Friars will be looking to avenge their loss to Marquette, which is a beatable squad in a loaded conference, but my guess is that this is Butler's game to lose.
Chris Fairfield: I would put my money on Butler to win this game. They just came of a very good win against a Top 15 on the road and I have lost a little faith in Providence after their lost against Marquette. If Providence plays to their potential it will be an interesting game but I think Butler would eventually win in the end.
Robert O'Neill: I have to go with Butler if only because it's been so tough to win on the road this season in the conference. I think, however, this game will be much better than people think.