The Villanova Wildcats (14-4, 5-0 BIG EAST) are on the road again on Tuesday, January 22 for a 7:00 p.m. tip-off at the Hinkle Fieldhouse against the Butler Bulldogs (12-7, 3-3 BIG EAST).
The Wildcats are hot right now. They’re looking to continue a six game winning streak, and remain undefeated in the conference.
The ‘Cats could be headed into dangerous territory. Butler is 9-1 at home, while Nova is 3-2 on the road.
Here are three things to watch for on Sunday:
An Equal Opponent
While the Wildcats may be fueled by their winning streak and conference record, on paper the matchup against Butler is unbelievably close. Beyond this season, of the five times the Wildcats have traveled to the Hinckle Fieldhouse, they’ve won 3 games, and fallen in the most recent 2. None of those five games were decided by more than 8 points.
According to ESPN, both teams have allowed 67 points a game this season, with Nova scoring 76, and Butler 74. On average, the Wildcats have 2 more rebounds a game than the Bulldogs, but the teams both average 14 assists, 2 blocks, and 5.7 steals per game.
A close, yet notable difference between the team is their turnover rates. Nova has had 12 per game this season, while Butler only averages 10. With a home court advantage, Butler could edge nova out with a few fast breaks. The Wildcats are going to have to focus on holding onto the ball if they’re hoping to secure this win.
Defense Will Be Key
The ‘Cats have found a rhythm in the last six games, and might just prove to be harder to defend than Butler.
Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have alternated leading games in points, averaging 18.4 and 16.6 respectively. They aren’t the only team scorers though, Collin Gillespie averages 11.4 points, and Saddiq Bey earns 7.5. Further, Paschall has lead five of the last six games in rebounds, the sixth lead by Booth, and Booth has lead five of the last six games in assists, the sixth by Gillespie.
Butler relies on Kamar Baldwin with 17.7 points per game. Baldwin is the overall leading scorer, and leading scorer in six of the last seven games, four of which were losses. Baldwin is followed by Paul Jorgensen with 12.3 points, then Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker both score around 10 points a game.
Here's where there’s a real difference—Baldwin also leads Butler in rebounds, steals, blocks, and minutes. For Villanova, Paschall is the leading rebounder, Gillespe boasts the most steals, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree leads in blocks.
While Butler’s lower turnover rate might suggest they have better ball control, they rely heavily on Baldwin. The Wildcats are much more balanced, and focused on securing wins as a team. While challenging, if Villanova defense can keep the ball away from Baldwin, they have a solid chance of coming out this game with a win.
The Experience Factor
After Villanova lost four key performers to the NBA, Booth and Paschall are the only two Wildcats who have played together in conference games. Yet, the team’s younger players have risen to the challenge against other BIG EAST teams.
Gillespie, who scored 18 points against Xavier and 14 against Creighton is slowly becoming one of Villanova’s most valuable players. Cosby-Roundree also had a notable game against Xavier last week, with 6 rebounds and 11 points, and Bey racked up 15 points against DePaul.
Butler has more experience playing together. Baldwin is a Junior, Jorgensen a redshirt senior, McDermott a redshirt Junior, and Joey Brunk is a redshirt sophomore. The only real wildcard is sophomore transfer Jordan Tucker, who has been increasingly reliable for the bulldogs.
While Butler may have more experience together, the Wildcat’s six game streak cannot be ignored. Nova’s younger players are finding their place on the team, and could provide some advantageous unpredictability.
Tune into FS1 tomorrow to see what goes down.