For the first time in conference play, the No. 22 Butler Bulldogs (17-6, 7-3 Big East) and DePaul Blue Demons (12-12, 6-5 Big East) will face off at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, Feb. 7. The Bulldogs have won six of their last seven games, including their last four in a row, playing their way up to second place in the Big East standings. The Blue Demons, on the other hand, snapped a three-game losing streak earlier this week, sweeping Seton Hall in conference play. Both teams are hungry to continue building their tournament resume's, so here's three things to watch for:
1. Battling the home crowd
If you've never been to Hinkle, it can be a freaking bear when the fans get involved in a game. It's loud, and the stadium's noise level is continuing to prove just how difficult it can be to win games on the road in the Big East. Butler's one of the best teams in the nation at home, losing just once on their own turf this season (against Providence). Their other five losses all occurred either on the road or on neutral ground, and they're probably looking to clean things up at home after a sloppy win at Marquette last weekend. Basketball is a game of runs, and if DePaul can't quiet the crowd quickly on Saturday, they could be in for a long game.
2. DePaul's three-point depth
Here's a pretty terrifying statistic: eight players in the DePaul lineup are shooting 33 percent or better from three-point land this season. It's a huge asset for players like Billy Garrett Jr., Tommy Hamilton IV and Myke Henry, and it may just be the Blue Demons' best shot at winning this game. Butler's done a nice job this season containing three-point shooters by throwing their more physical defenders like Alex Barlow, Kameron Woods and Roosevelt Jones on them at the perimeter, but it'll be interesting to see how DePaul comes out offensively. The three ball could be what tips the scales in their favor if they can get multiple players hot from deep.
3. Butler's free throw renaissance
67 percent. On average, the entire Butler roster is shooting the same percent from the free throw line that Dwight Howard, a notoriously terrible free throw shooter, put up as his career best in his rookie season. It's been an issue all season, except for the last two games. It all started against Marquette, where the team hit 17 of their 18 attempts (94 percent) from the stripe, and they followed it up with a 19-of-25 performance earlier this week against visiting St. John's. You could argue, in the case of the Marquette game, that if they hadn't had that kind of success at the line, they wouldn't have been able to rip off their ten point rally in the game's final minutes. They're clearly starting to get in a groove at the line, adding another weapon to an already really dangerous arsenal.
BONUS: Winning in the "top half"
I know, I'm cheating here, but I think something needs to mentioned regarding DePaul's play as of late. It's no secret that they struggled a bit in non-conference play (the six-game losing streak kind of speaks for itself), but they won their first three Big East games and even played their way into Joe Lunardi's NCAA Tournament projections for a week. They've won six of their 11 conference games, but when you take a closer look, it's a little bit deceiving. Sure, they swept Seton Hall, who was ranked just a week ago, but all of their wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the Big East standings. The Blue Demons currently sit in fifth in the standings, but they haven't beat Villanova, Georgetown or Providence, who are all ahead of them. They have an outside shot at the tourney, but it's going to become really important down the stretch for DePaul to start getting some sexier wins against those upper four teams.