The last time these two teams faced off, the Villanova Wildcats were finally able to end a three game losing streak to the Butler Bulldogs. With each team winning at home this season, Friday’s Big East Tournament Semifinal will serve as a rubber match for two teams that are both safely into the NCAA tournament.
Last night’s victory was the first BET win in Butler’s history. The Wildcats also made school history by winning Jay Wright his 414th win at Villanova, the most by any coach.
Nova has now made the BET Semifinals for a fourth consecutive season, and they’ve moved onto the finals in each of the previous three years. In order for them to keep that streak alive, here are three things to watch for in tonight’s game:
The Name’s Baldwin, Kamar Baldwin
The go to guy for Butler all year long has been their senior star Kelan Martin, averaging over 20 points and 6 rebounds per game. But last night against Seton Hall, it was the Bulldogs’ second leading scorer who stole the show. Kamar Baldwin put up a career high 32 points on 60% shooting as he seemingly willed his team to a come from behind victory.
Baldwin getting hot isn’t great news for the Wildcats. In their two previous games this season, he’s averaged 22 points while shooting 45% from the floor, 50% from deep, and 90% at the line. The 6’1” guard has a quick first step to get around defenders and can finish at the rim just as well as he shoots from the outside. Defending dribble penetration has been an area Villanova struggled with earlier in the season, and they’re going to have to find a way to stop it if they want to hold Baldwin and Martin in check.
Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
Villanova’s defense looked much improved last night against a Marquette team that featured an offense ranked in the Top 15 by KenPom.com. But interestingly enough when comparing Marquette’s shooting percentages from last night to their season averages, everything was within 5% of what they normally produced on offense. The key difference in this game was that Villanova controlled the pace of play.
Because of how efficient Villanova is on offense, teams need to hope they go cold or try to get as many possessions as possible to beat them. In the previous two matchups with Marquette the possessions per game were 76 and 70, both above Nova’s season average. Last night, the game speed was down to 66 possessions per game. It’s important to note that Villanova has not lost a game all season when they keep their possessions per game below 70.
That brings us to Butler. The Bulldogs actually play at an average speed slower than the Wildcats, but in each of their two meetings this season they sped the game up to 72 possessions. If Villanova can dictate their tempo and continue the efficient offense they showed on Thursday, it should mean a fourth straight trip to the finals for the Wildcats.
Get To The Line!
One aspect of this game that could be very interesting is how often these teams get to the free throw line. Both teams are Top 25 in the country in FT%, so they’re both capable of holding onto a lead late. However, they both rank around the 300’s in their frequency in getting to the line, so taking advantage of their free throw shooting will be difficult.
That’s where Villanova has a huge advantage in this one. The ‘Cats rank 20th in the country at keeping their opponents off the penalty stripe. Butler ranks 223rd. If Villanova can attack the paint and use their athleticism to draw fouls, that could decide the game.