Opposites attract, they say. In historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, two completely different basketball teams will face off against one another in a top-25 matchup between Big East foes. On one hand, the visiting Villanova Wildcats protect the basket with one of the top defenses in the country and are hitting their stride as the start of Big East conference play. Conversely, the Butler Bulldogs sport an elite offense, but has struggled to stop the basketball as they start 1-2 against Big East opponents.
Which style of play will win out? Here's three thoughts heading into tomorrow's matchup.
Can Butler's offense make up for poor defense?
At a first glance, Butler sports one of the most prolific offenses in the country. The Bulldogs score 86.5 points per game and average a 1.71 assist to turnover ratio. Both of these stats are top in the Big East and eighth best in the country. We all heard about Butler's 144-point explosion against The Citadel, the highest point total in school history. But, interestingly, the Bulldog's offense has dropped off significantly since entering Big East play. Averaging 73 points (13.5 less than their season average) in Big East play, Butler has struggled to regain the momentum they displayed early in the season.
Butler will need its offense to compensate for its horrid defense, which ranks 183rd in the NCAA and allows over 70 points per game after defensive anchors Kameron Woods and Alex Barlow graduated. The question, then, is whether the Bulldog's offense can outscore the opponent. Playing against the Wildcats, who are the most balanced offensive and defensive team in the conference, the Bulldogs will face an uphill battle the entire game. It'll be up to the streaky Kellen Dunham, who endured a massive shooting slump earlier this season, to light up Hinkle with his smooth three-point stroke. For the Wildcats, it is essential that the team continues to feed Daniel Ochefu in the post, where only Tyler Wideman has a chance of slowing him down, in order to open up the offensive attack.
Josh Hart's biggest test
Josh Hart has been phenomenal this season, replacing the point production and go-to scoring title from the graduated Darrun Hilliard. He's averaging 15.5 points per game shooting 55% from the field and 40% from three. Not only has he stepped into the lead offensive role for Jay Wright, but Hart has also contributed on the defensive end as well, guarding NBA talents like DeAndre Bembry and Buddy Hield. For a team which has struggled to rebound the ball at times, Hart is one of the team's most dependable, averaging almost 7 per game. It's safe to say the Hart has been the Wildcats' most complete player this season.
He's had a few good defensive players guard him thus far this season, such as the perimeter defenders of both Virginia and Seton Hall. None, however, compare to Roosevelt Jones, who is a tough, strong guard who is a brick wall defensively and a bruiser offensively. Against Jones, Hart will have to use his quickness (spin move, anyone?) to surprise his tenacious counterpart. It will be a fantastic early season test for Hart to continue to improve and expand his offensive repertoire against a stronger opponent.Defensively, Hart has the length to disrupt Jones; Villanova will rely on Hart to do so in order to quell the prolific Butler attack.
Bigger than basketball
The focus surrounding Butler the past week has taken place beyond the basketball court. As IndyStar's David Woods writes, "their thoughts are not confined to basketball," but instead continue to discuss and pray for the improvement of former Butler basketball star Andrew Smith, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2014. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens recently visited his former player, raising speculation about Smith's condition. Nevertheless, the Butler program has continued to raise support for their former player, becoming one of the most emotional basketball stories of the season.
The basketball world has come together to send thoughts and prayers with the Smith family. Let's do the same.