SCOUTING BUTLER!! CRITICAL TILT FOR DAWGS AND MUSKIES!!
Andy Mac Williams,
We're about to begin the final week of the 18 game regular season BIG EAST schedule and very little has been decided. At the top of the standings, leader Villanova(13-4) is just a half game up on 2nd place Marquette(12-4). VU is off until Saturday at Seton Hall while MU makes up its game-in-hand Wednesday vs Seton Hall in Newark then closes out the schedule in Milwaukee Saturday hosting Georgetown. The BIG EAST regular season Title is on the line along with the Top Seed in next week's BIG EAST Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Spots 3 through 10 are a scrambled mess w/ first round BIG EAST Tourney byes going to Seeds 3-6 meaning Seeds 7-10 have to pair up Wednesday night in NYC w/ the 2 winners advancing to the Quarterfinals. More importantly, 3 maybe 4 NCAA bids are available to BIG EAST teams. Villanova and Marquette will get two bids for sure. Xavier is finally getting some bubble mentions in the wake of their 5 game winning streak (First 4 in-Last 4 out-all those familiar March Madness terms).
XU has work to do(currently tied for 3rd w/ Georgetown at 8-8). Wins at Butler(Tuesday 6PM EST Tip-FS1) and home Saturday vs St Johns(5Pm-BIG FOX TV 19) would put Xavier in decent shape headed to NYC(solo 3rd-w/ a 7 game win streak and a probable low to mid 50s NCAA NET). Not an NCAA lock, but pretty darn close IMHO considering 10-8 BIG EAST teams have received 12 of a possible 13 NCAA bids over the past 5 seasons.
Butler is in more dire straits seemingly w/ a 6-10 BIG EAST record and 4 losses in their last 5 games. The Bulldogs have the edge on the Muskies in the new NET. They're at 59 while XU is 70th. The Net's role in at large team selection and seeding will probably be major-larger than the old RPI-because it's the NCAA's pet project. Butler also has a tough season ending game at Providence Saturday. Job#1 for Butler is to avoid a Wednesday play-in game and a Bottom 4 seed at MSG. That may take two more wins and a bout w/ the tie breaker formula.
Xavier edged Butler 70-69 w/ a huge late comeback at Cintas January 13th(see mm article dated 1-14-2019). Quentin Gooden did not play that evening for Xavier. He's back and playing like a primo PG now. My Scouting Report for XU-BU game #1 is also available in the MM archives dated 1-12-2019.
GAME TWO SPECIFICS:
Xavier is hot (5 wins in a row) while Butler is not(4 losses in the last 5 games). BU obviously has the home court this time. They are 11-4 at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse including 4-4 in BIG EAST games w/ defeats by Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and PC). It's Butler Senior Night(final Hinkle appearances barring NIT for BIG Nate Fowler-Moeller HS and sniper guard Paul Jorgensen-GW transfer). Xavier is thriving on the road w/ wins recently at Seton Hall, at PC and at St Johns.
Muskie defense has stiffened allowing a stingy 65PPG during the 5 game 3 week streak. XU has tightened up their 3 point defense considerably. Butler lives by the 3(37% of their points-43% of their shots). Recently(last 4 losses) the 3 ball has not been kind to BU(27-107 for just 25%). On friendly Hinkle rims before a sell-out Senior Night crowd in a "MUST WIN" pressure cooker game, will the Bulldogs long range snipers return to form?
BU is awash in good shooters-Jorgensen-Duke transfer Jordan Tucker-top scorer Kamar Baldwin(19PPG-BE)-6-7 Sean McDermott-Nate Fowler. Xavier should win the inside game w/ Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins. X should win at the FT line. Butler needs to make 3s-play their low turnover game and force the Muskies into live ball errors. Butler guards Baldwin and Aaron Thompson are great at defensive ball pressure and converting run-out lay-ups.
X has stayed composed and controlled tempo lately and they are getting better and better at it-beating Villanova by 12 and St Johns by 11. X has handled zones and switching man and all sorts of pressing defenses pretty well. Butler will throw the kitchen sink at the Muskies hoping to create confusion and contested shots and turnovers.
Butler has uncommon depth playing 10 guys. They have 2 solid BIGS(Nate Fowler and RS SOPH Joey Brunk) w/ Fowler playing more minutes lately. The 3rd BIG is improving Bryce Golden. PG 1 and 1A are Baldwin who dominates the ball and improving Soph Aaron Thompson(driver and defender). Jorgensen fires up 3s off the bench. Tucker is a large talented Wing(10.5PPG-5 Rebounds) who is still learning the system after the transfer from Duke.
McDermott is a lanky wing and corner shooter(41% from 3). Henry Baddley and Christain David are 6-5ish versatile Soph wings. Butler played a lot of zone in Game#1 at Cintas looking to starve the XU Twin Post line-up. The Muskies have gotten much better at cracking zone "D". Elias Harden returns after a one game suspension to add a 3rd solid sub-some outside shooting and solid defense. Harden averaged 19 minutes/game in the 4 outings before his suspension(all 4 were Xavier wins).
PG Gooden is available and healthy this time. Q-Paul Scruggs-Kyle Castlin and Harden will try to hang onto the ball and keep super quick Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson from ripping into the lane. Xavier's making an inspired late run to extend their NCAA Tournament streak to 6 years in a row after sitting dead last in the BIG EAST at 3-8 just over 3 weeks ago. X is now on the cusp of the NCAA bubble with a chanced to call their own shot by winning 2 this week and gaining solo 3rd at 10-8. Butler is trying for a miracle NCAA end run to extend their 4 year NCAA run to 5.
BU already has 10 BE losses(6-10). No team in the New BIG EAST Era(last 5 seasons) has made the NCAA w/ a sub .500 regular season record. Those teams are 0-18. It's been a weird year so maybe Butler at 8-10 w/ a couple wins in NYC could snare a Hail Mary at large bid or win 3 of 4 games and nab the automatic NCAA berth?
XU's path to the BIG DANCE seems more possible, but who knows? IMHO if the Muskies win 2 this week, they are sitting in the catbird seat heading to the BIG APPLE!!
Congrats to Naji Marshall for making the 5 man BIG EAST Honor Roll for a 3rd straight week thanks to his career high 31 point game at St Johns. Naji is averaging 22. 6PPG-6.6 Rebounds and 3. 8 assists during the 5 game winning streak w/ 40% three point shooting(19-47). Another BIG EFFORT is needed at Hinkle!!