One game down, one to go.
The Villanova Wildcats passed the first test in what is, arguably, their most challenging week of Big East play as they took care of the Providence Friars 74-68. On Saturday, Jay Wright and company will look to keep the momentum rolling when they take on the #18 Butler Bulldogs at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
There's no shortage of stakes on the line. Butler currently stands only one game behind Villanova in conference standings. A victory would place the Wildcats in the driver's seat for winning the regular season conference title. A victory against the Bulldogs (19th) would improve the Wildcats' win/loss versus the RPI top-25 to 5-1, a win total matched only by Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma. A victory would prove beyond a doubt their ability to win on the road against the best the Big East has to offer.
A victory, of course, is the hard part. The Bulldogs represents an entirely different challenge than what Villanova experienced against Providence. Where the Friars sport a top-40 offense according to KenPom, Butler brings a top-20 defense to the court. LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn's star power is juxtaposed by the balanced scoring based out of Indianapolis.
There's plenty to consider for Coach Wright and his staff. Let's take a look at what might be on the top of their priority list when it comes to muzzling the Bulldogs.
Contain Kellen Dunham
For better or worse, at least according to some, Kellen Dunham represents the focal point of Butler's attack on offense. In fact, the junior shooting guard accounts for just over 20% of his team's total from the floor per game. But when he's shooting 42% from downtown and nearly 86% from the charity stripe, it's easy to see why the Bulldogs are so eager to feed him the ball.
And score he has, notching 16.7 ppg for the season and just under 21 points over the Bulldogs' last three contests. Dunham lacks an elite handle and is unlikely to sneak past a defender with his first step. Yet what makes Butler's weapon so effective is a combination of above average height and a sneaky quick release on his shot. Dunham is adept at rolling off of screens or spotting up after one or two dribbles to snipe from outside.
In contrast to season's past, the Wildcats have done an excellent job of containing their opponent's most dangerous offensive piece. For Villanova, the strategy for slowing down their opponents leading scorer will likely revolve around marking Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart as close to Dunham as possible. Not allowing any space, and occasionally offering a friendly nudge to keep him off balance, will hopefully be enough to minimize the junior's impact on the final score.
Box Out...Box Out!
The win that first put Butler on the map as a team to fear in the Big East, a 74-66 victory against North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis, was swung by one key stat--offensive rebounds. And when I mean swung, I mean that the Bulldogs absolutely annihilated the boards. Against a Tar Heel team with superior size and athleticism, Butler bullied their way towards 29 offensive rebounds (58% of potential opportunities). It was no doubt a concerted effort of their coaching staff, and one that paid off dividends.
That trend has carried forward throughout the rest of the season. The Bulldogs, averaging approximately 12.6 offensive boards per game (46th in the country), are bolstered by three key players; Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz throw around thick frames to nudge defenders out of the way while Cameron Woods utilizes his 6'9" body and extreme length to sky for missed shots.
What is a strength for Butler could quickly turn into Villanova's kryptonite. The Wildcats give up the 177th most offensive rebounds per game, according to sports-reference. It will take a team effort and inspired performances from Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
Keep Calm, Carry On
The Wildcats have found themselves in virtually every game scenario imaginable at least once throughout this season. They've endured huge runs from their opponents (Michigan), found themselves down early (versus NJIT), and have had to scratch and claw for victories at times. Most recently, they overcame a hostile and fired up home crowd against Providence.
Their trip to Butler will prove no different. Like their 12-1 home record would suggest, Hinkle Fieldhouse provides an immense advantage for the Bulldogs. It will be on Coach Wright and his veteran leaders to stay calm and collected during the ebb and flow of the game. If Butler jumps out early from hot shooting or a lack of energy from his team, Wright shouldn't be shy from burning an early timeout.