The 'Wildcats only needed regulation to put away St. John's at the Pavilion after a double-OT effort in Rhode Island. The second time around the Big East shouldn't be any easier now that things are a little more familiar with the newcomers. Butler is up next for Villanova, who play all but one of their remaining regular-season games in the Philadelphia-area.
There isn't much on the line for the visitors, other than their pride, however, but after needing overtime to beat the Bulldogs in their last meeting, Villanova will have to be prepared for the scrappy Butler team looking to make a statement that they belong.
Our new friends over at Butler Hoops were kind enough to answer some questions for us, leading up to the game. Check over at their site for our answers to them as well.
1. Even in defeat on New Years Eve, Butler looked like it could have been one of the Big East's better teams through December, but then you've had two 5-game losing streaks. The Bulldogs haven't really been blown out, and have gone to overtime six times this season, what has held Butler back from winning some of those close games?
Talent and Coaching. Butler's jumped from the Horizon League, to the A-10, to the Big East in consecutive seasons without any time to build up their roster and Brandon Miller's in his very first season as a head coach. The Juniors and Seniors on the current Butler squad (and really the Sophomores too) were recruited under the guise that they would be playing against a conference that at their current size and athletic abilities, they'd fit in pretty well against. But against the size and talent that the Big East has, they've struggled. Kellen Dunham would be a great guy to have as a Big East team's 3rd or 4th scorer, but this year he's struggled getting open looks because the teams in the Big East have multiple guys that can guard him well, and it's the same for pretty much every other player Butler has.
In terms of Miller's coaching, I think he's done a really good job of keeping the team competitive in most of these games and he has been handcuffed by the roster he has, but he does make mistakes, and when you play in so many close games and lose most of them, those mistakes, much like the team's, get magnified. Ultimately time will tell if Butler simply grew too quick or if they can manage to overcome the hard road they have in front of them.
2. Would things be different this season if Brad Stevens hadn't accepted the Celtics job? What were your expectations for this team before the season, and how have they changed?
I do think things would be a little different if Stevens hadn't accepted the Celtics job, but not significantly. Instead of 2-13 in the Big East, they might be something like 4-11 or 5-10, but as I alluded to in your first question, jumping leagues in consecutive seasons has really caught up with Butler. I actually predicted they'd be 4-14 in the league before the season began, so they aren't that far off from my expectations or the Big East Coaches Poll before the season started. Obviously their non-conference record surprised some folks and upped the expectations of fans, but their non-conference schedule was ranked 296th in the country, so it's not that surprising that they've come back to Earth with all of the good teams the Big East has.
I think one area in which things might be different are all of the off-the-court issues that Butler has been having this season, with 4 players getting suspended at one point or another and a couple of guys transferring. Brad was much more controlling of a coach than Brandon Miller, and while he stopped short of tucking them all in at night and reading them a bedtime story, there wasn't a lot of freedom given to his players, on or off the court. Coach Miller has given the players more of a leash, and with the team's struggles and the players never really having this kind of leeway before, they've had some issues.
3. Other than Kellen Dunham and Elijah Brown, who took the 'Cats for double-digits in Indianapolis, who should Villanova be looking out for on Wednesday? Andrew Chrabascz?
Chrabascz is the one guy who has really grown into his role as the season's progressed and has remained efficient despite going up against the size and athleticism of the post players in the Big East. I also think coming down the stretch you're going to see a lot from Khyle Marshall, being as it's his senior season and he knows his college basketball career is coming to a close. Both are undersized, but are polar opposites in terms of how they play. Marshall's very athletic (by Butler's standards), but really has trouble hitting anything that's not a dunk or shot inside 5 feet. Chrabascz is incredibly skilled, has really good footwork, can bang with guys down low on offense and can also step out and hit a jumper and is a really good passer, but seems like the kind of player that you can measure his vertical leap in sheets of paper rather than inches.
4. Georgetown's bulldog bit a little kid before the season and was suspended indefinitely for the infraction. Does Blue look down on that sort of behavior, or was Jack an idol of his growing up? Also, if you have time, please comment on the relative speed with which Georgia churns through their all-white bulldog mascots...
From what I heard, the kid was wearing Syracuse clothing and one of those freaky looking Jim Boeheim cut out masks, so they were asking for it. Unless a kid dresses up like a giant bone or a cardboard box, then yes, Blue III absolutely looks down on that kind of behavior. The current Butler mascot grew up idolizing his predecessor and mentor, Blue 2, who captured America's hearts with the way he slobbered on the court, creating wet spots on the court which fit directly in with Coach Stevens' game plans during Butler's Final Four runs. Plus @ButlerBlue3 has over 11,000 twitter followers while Jack's got just over 3,000, so while I think he certainly respects Jack and the Hoyas on the court, off the court he knows he's the King of the Bulldog mascots in the Big East.
As for Georgia's Bulldog, they finally broke the color barrier with their current mascot (UGA IX) having a couple of brown spots on his body, so it's good to see progress being made on that front. I personally think the all-white Bulldogs are why they keep churning through them at such an astounding pace. Having that kind of complexion in the sunshine and heat, he must spend a fortune on sunscreen.
5. Hinkle Fieldhouse is held up there with the Palestra as one of college hoops' great arenas, but if you could replace it with a really expensive, 20,000-seat monster of an arena, would you? Also, where would you rank Villanova's Pavilion among Big East venues?
No way. While our friends over at Banners on the Parkway may want to replace it with a smoldering pile of rubble, let alone a huge new facility, Hinkle is a big draw for most fans and coaches. The history behind that place is just awesome to think about. At their last game, Butler honored members of the 1954 Milan high school (the team that inspired the movie Hoosiers), who won their state title at Hinkle. While this new renovation will help bring Hinkle closer to the 21st century with video scoreboards, padded seats and other new classroom and weight facilities for athletes, it's so unique with all the history that's taken place there and that it's not designed like a cookie-cutter NBA arena. Not to mention Butler has trouble filling out its current 10,000 seat facility, so you double the seating and then that problem looks much, much worse.
Right now the Pavilion ranks in a tie for second with all other Big East facilities since I've never had the pleasure of attending a game there, but one of my goals is to attend games at all the of team's facilities in the near future. What I do know is that place is packed tighter than Shaq in a Buick LaCrosse for every game, which is awesome to see.
6. We know Butler can stay close with Villanova, but what do they need to do to jet out of Philadelphia with a big win?
Book a trip for the entire Villanova team on a Caribbean Cruise before the game and hope they contract the Norovirus? In all seriousness, they are going to have to have their game of the year on both ends of the court. They need to defend the paint and just hope that the Wildcats are off from deep on defense, and offensively they are going to need to hit quite a few 3's to come out of Philly with a win.