Butler is going to be dancing in March, a Xavier win tonight would go a long way towards the Musketeers joining the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament.
Even if the Bulldogs have been inconsistent in conference play, a top-3 seed is very much in play. While most bracketologists have Butler as a four or five seed, the Bulldogs have one of the most impressive resumes around. Their seven quad 1 wins are tied for the fifth-most in college basketball while a home loss to DePaul is their only defeat that falls outside of the first quadrant. Butler’s best tournament seed was a four-seed in 2016-17, Chris Holtmann’s final season. A strong finish likely means that the Bulldogs beat that and a two-seed might still be in play.
By most every account, Xavier would be in the Tournament were it to start today. Every bracketologist save one has the Musketeers in the field per BracketMatrix.com, with their position averaging out to a ten-seed. In Xavier’s favor, the conference schedule was front-loaded and a 4-3 finish would get the Musketeers up to .500 and a likely Tournament berth—that’s still easily doable even if the Musketeers get swept by Butler. Xavier’s resume lacks high-impact wins (beyond a win at Seton Hall) but a win at Hinkle would fill that gap.
Match-ups to Watch
- Can Butler handle Jones? Xavier’s Tyrique Jones has been on a tear, averaging 13.2 points, 15.8 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game over his last six. He’s been dominant in games featuring some of the Big East’s best bigs. Butler, stacked with great guards and wings, does not have any of the league’s best big men. Jones should wreak havoc down low once again.
- Who stops Kamar Baldwin? Butler’s senior guard has been consistent in conference play, scoring in double-figures in every game. He also hit one of the most impactful shots of the season thus far, hitting a three at the buzzer to knock off Villanova last week. Baldwin’s been great but has gone a bit under-the-radar with the exploits of Markus Howard and Myles Powell, two guys that Xavier did pretty well against this year. In two games against the Musketeers each, Powell scored 33 points on 35 shots while Howard 53 but took 41 shots to get there. The biggest reason for Xavier’s success against the stars has been the smothering defense of Naji Marshall. While having Marshall hound the other team’s best player has hurt some of his offensive output, he’ll likely spend tonight tracking Baldwin around the court.
- Can Butler get over the hump against Xavier? When they’ve played multiple times in a season, Butler has not swept Xavier since 1984-85. Since the two joined conferences in 2012-13 (the year Butler temporarily joined the A-10), the Musketeers have gone 11-5 against the Bulldogs. In 2016-17, Butler won both regular season matchups but then lost to Xavier in the Big East Tournament. If there ever was a year where the Bulldogs didn’t lose to the Musketeers, this would seemingly be it.
Place: Hinkle Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana
Line: Butler -5.5
Series History: Xavier leads 40-20 and 10-5 since both joined the Big East in 2016-17
Xavier has had trouble this year with teams that can shoot at the rate the Musketeers can’t match. Teams such as Creighton and Marquette just had too many shooters around the court for the Musketeers to mark them all and, as a result, Xavier couldn’t take advantage of those teams’ weaknesses. While Kyky Tandy has helped Xavier stretch the floor on the other end, Xavier relies mostly on getting to the rim to score. Butler doesn’t have great rim protectors. In short, Butler seems to be a good match-up.
The other side is that Butler is a team which is better than the sum of its parts. The Bulldogs play well together and balance a top-20 offense and defense. They won’t let Xavier dominate the offensive glass nor will they make many mistakes—there’s a reason this is a top-20 team.
It should be a tight game, kept tight by both teams’ proclivity to play slow. Xavier’s getting 5.5 points which seems like good value in a game that ends with a relatively low score.
Butler 64, Xavier 60