Villanova knocked off Butler in their first meeting this season, but the Bulldogs have been one of the league's stronger teams this season despite the loss to start conference play. When the 'Cats make their second trip to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, it could be a challenge for the Wildcats to scratch out a victory against the number-two team in the league.
To help get us caught up on the happenings at Hinkle since January 1st, we spoke to Jordan Goetzke from from Scout.com and InsidetheDawgPound.com. You can read our answers for him in their Game Day Preview over at their site.
(1) Heading into the home-stretch of the season, how do you rate the job that coach Chris Holtmann has done this season?
Chris Holtmann has done a tremendous job with Butler this season. After taking over just a few days before the season started, in an interim role, Holtmann has been able to unify the team. Over the course of the season, and after he was named the permanent coach, Holtmann has established his identity as head coach at Butler, which many feel is in line with old Butler principles and what the Butler fan base calls "The Butler Way". The team was predicted to finish 9th in the Big East this season during the pre-season meetings, but now sits at 18-6 (8-3) in 2nd place. Holtmann is certainly deserving to be one of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year in the Big East.
(2) Butler has only lost two games in the new year -- both on the road -- what has been the biggest factor in that success?
Everyone is looking at a team that was truly tested during the non-conference schedule. Playing the likes of North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgetown (non-conference matchup) really prepared Butler for the rigors of the Big East slate. One of the biggest areas that has helped to save many games for Butler, or at least give them an advantage, is rebounding. Butler leads the Big East rebounding rate or overall rebounding percentage at 54.2% (Xavier is 2nd at 52.8%). They also lead the conference in total rebounds per game, 37.2 and are 2nd in the Big East in offensive rebounding, averaging 12.6 per game.
(3) The Bulldogs played five (six if you count Georgetown) games against major conference opponents in their non-conference schedule. Are fans generally happy to see that sort of scheduling, or are there any cried to soften the schedule?
With Butler's roots in the mid-major ranks, Butler fans are used to the idea of loading up a non-conference schedule in order to make your resume "tournament worthy". Just three season ago, Butler was a member of the Horizon League. Therefore, I don't think fans are taken back by the strength of the non-conference schedule. There has been a little talk about the issue and in the long run, with the strength of the Big East, Butler may soften the schedule a bit. However fans should still see a few big matchups every season including the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis as well as a non-conference tournament.
(4) Butler seems to excel on defense this season, is there any hole in their defensive scheme that opponents have taken advantage of?
Butler has done a really good job of limiting teams offensively this season. It isn't a coincidence that Butler's return to superior defense coincided with Roosevelt Jones returning from injury. Butler regained is most physically gifted defender in Jones after he missed all of last season with a wrist injury. Senior point guard Alex Barlow and Jones can be extremely aggressive defensively, which can be both an advantage and disadvantage for Butler. Their aggressiveness has led to games where both get into foul trouble. Once that happens, Butler's defensive prowess takes a hit and opponents have found it easier to score against the Bulldogs.
(5) Kellen Dunham seems to be a rock for Butler, and while his scoring numbers haven't changed dramatically from last year, he seems to be far more efficient at it now. What have you seen from him this season that you haven't in the past?
Over the past two season Dunham has transformed himself into an all-around player on the offensive end. During his freshman season, Dunham was able to be a pure spot-up shooter alongside Rotnei Clarke. As a sophomore, with fewer offensive options including Clark (graduation) and Roosevelt Jones (injury) missing from the lineup, Dunham was relied upon to be the main offensive threat. He struggled at times to find open shots and forced many opportunities. Now as a junior, Dunham has completed his offensive game with the ability to create his own shot on a consistent basis. His ability to drive has increased his opportunities at the free throw line (+1 FTA/game) where he has always been consistent shooter (85.8% this season). He is also making better decision with the basketball and deferring some opportunities to his teammates. He has decreased his turnovers (-0.6/game) and is taking fewer shots (-2 FG/game) with better efficiency (+4.7 FG%).
(6) For Villanova fans who may be traveling to Hinkle this weekend, what should they buy from the concession stands? Where is the best spot for a pre- or post-game beverage?
Hinkle Fieldhouse, one of the most historic basketball venues in the country, got a face-lift over the past few years. The construction was finalized before the start of this season and renovations included adding more chair-backs, a video board, and improved concourses. The new concession stands include many traditional favorites such as hotdogs and popcorn, while there are also individual stands for Chick-Fil-A and Dippin Dots.
For pre- and post-game refreshments the best area is a short drive from Butler's campus. Heading northeast to Broad Ripple will give you multiple establishments such as Chumley's, Brothers Bar & Grill, and Kilroy's to grab a drink, some food, and watch a few more games.