The Butler Bulldogs welcome the Providence Friars to Hinkle Fieldhouse for each team's Big East opener on December 31st. Butler has reported that the game is sold out and it should be a fantastic atmosphere inside one of the most historic buildings in college basketball. This marks just the second time in Hinkle history that Butler and their opponent are both ranked inside the top 15 and would have been the first ever matchup of top 10 teams in the new configuration of the Big East if the Friars didn't get leapfrogged in the AP poll by Iowa State and Kentucky. Now that trivia answer will belong to Xavier and Butler on January 2nd. Each team brings only 1 loss into Big East play with the Bulldogs falling to Miami in Puerto Rico and the Friars falling to Michigan State in Anaheim.
How to watch, listen
Time: 2:30 p.m. EST
TV: CBSSN || Dave Ryan & Steve Wolf
Odds: Butler opened as an 8 point favorite over Providence, via OddsShark.
Butler and Providence are both 7-5 ATS this season.
1. Get Dunham Back on Track: Butler was one of the nation's most prolific offenses during November and December. The Bulldogs are averaging a Big East best 88.9 points/game, a mark that ranks them second nationally. During that run of point stacking performances, Kellen Dunham was playing fantastic. He was instrumental in Butler's 2-point win on the road against then 17th ranked Cincinnati and was named Big East Player of the Week the Monday following that performance. At that point -- December 7th -- Dunham was leading the Big East in scoring at 21.3 points/game. Dunham is in the midst of a horrific shooting slump that amounts to a 15% field goal percentage over his last 4 games, including an 0/13 in Butler's win over Purdue on December 19th. Prior to this recent stretch, Dunham's numbers were very good from the field and Chris Holtmann is surely hoping Dunham returns to form against Providence.
2. Friars Get an A in Chemistry: Providence coach Ed Cooley has been talking a lot about his team's chemistry and the ability of the players to figure out and embrace their respective roles. Whether it's Ben Bentil stepping up and taking on more of a scoring role or Junior Lomomba becoming the ultimate glue guy, this team's chemistry is a big strength heading into conference play. When Ryan Fazekas was sidelined due to mono, Jalen Lindsey stepped right in to provide shooting and has been impressive on the boards in addition. Good team chemistry mixed in with a player like Kris Dunn means Providence will be dangerous in conference play and they won't be rattled by a sold-out Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon.
3. Offense vs. Defense: This game could come down to simply which team's strength wins out over the other's. Butler's offense has been excellent and Providence's defense has been very good. The Bulldogs are very efficient shooting the basketball and don't turn the ball over. The Friars force turnovers at a high rate and keep opponents off the free throw line. This game very well could be decided by Butler having the ball last and the outcome being decided based on a true battle of the Bulldogs' offense vs. the Friars' defense.