The gauntlet of the Big East schedule continues as the Villanova Wildcats (8-9, 2-4 Big East) travel to Hinkle Fieldhouse and face the Butler Bulldogs (10-8, 2-5 Big East) on Friday night at 7:00pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
Head Coach Thad Matta is off to a less than ideal start in his return to Butler as they’ve lost their last two games and sit at 2-5 in conference play. The Bulldogs enjoyed a successful non-conference slate going 8-3 and beating (now No. 11-ranked) Kansas State in the process.
On the other hand, Kyle Neptune is in desperate need of a win for the Cats. Tuesday’s loss against DePaul snapped a 22-game winning streak against the Blue Demons and made it four losses in their last five games.
With both teams looking to snap losing streaks, tensions will be high in the notorious Hinkle Fieldhouse. Ahead of the Friday’s matchup, let’s jump into some areas to watch out for.
Balanced Butler Attack
Butler’s offense at a high-level has similar characteristics to Villanova’s – slow tempo, balanced scoring options, and generally not many assists. However, the glaring difference is the reliance on three points, Butler ranks 259th in the country for their reliance on the deep ball while Villanova is 6th.
The Bulldogs boast five players that average between 10-13 points a game. Highlighting this group is NC State transfer Manny Bates who currently averages 12.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Eric Dixon will have his work cut out for him, especially on the defensive side where Bates is converting on 63% of his shots.
The rest of Butler’s scoring quintet are all threats from three-point territory as they each shoot at least 35%. Guards Jayden Taylor and Chuck Harris will likely be of the other primary targets for the scouting report, but they shouldn’t discount Simas Lukosius and Eric Hunter Jr.
Through 18 games, the Bulldogs have had six different leading scorers with Bates, Taylor, and Harris making up 14 of them.
Some positive news for Villanova – this Butler team doesn’t rely on passing the ball as much when scoring, as their assist percentage ranks 206th in the country. The Cats have struggled against efficient ball movement of late, including Xavier (2nd assist percentage), UConn, (10th), and Marquette (32nd).
Winning on the road in the Big East is never an easy task. The stats back this up as home teams are 12-22 so far this conference season. To make matters worse, Hinkle Fieldhouse has historically been a pain in the ass for Villanova. Personally, this arena is one of my most feared regardless how good or bad Villanova is playing.
The Cats are 2-4 in their last six games at Hinkle and Butler is 7-2 this year at home, compared to being 2-4 on the road. Additionally, there won’t be the benefit of a slightly less hostile environment due to winter break. The spring semester at Butler kicked off on Monday which means the matchup against Villanova will be the first weekend with the student body back on campus. I’d expect it to be as loud as usual, even if there’s no court storming opportunity this time.
Finally, this game is a result of poor scheduling on behalf of the Big East. The combination of back-to-back road games for Villanova at DePaul and at Butler puts a ton of extra miles of the Cats’ legs in a short amount of time. Its possible this is a non-factor, but I imagine two of the further distance games separated by a few days isn’t ideal.
As we all know, Villanova usually lives or dies from the deep ball. They may need to have a backup plan for Friday night.
Butler has an above average 3-point defense since they only allow teams to convert at 31% throughout the season. Another interesting stat – they force their opponents to avoid the deep ball all together. Only 33% of their opponents’ shots are from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Villanova is taking nearly half their shots from 3-point land.
Despite a perceivably strong perimeter defense, both Seton Hall and St. John’s were able to shoot over 40% in recent wins over Butler. Let’s hope the staff is utilizing that game tape in preparation for Friday.
Another area of focus for Villanova includes the turnover battle. Tuesday night featured an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers against DePaul. Butler will look to produce some steals and limit Villanova’s possessions through their whole roster. Everyone of their key contributors has can cause turnovers so the Cats will need to tighten things up.
On the other hand, Villanova will be able to limit Butler’s second chance as they are statistically one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country. As mentioned above, Butler lacks ball movement. If the Cats isolation defense can keep things under control and force bad shots, Butler’s offense can go cold early. This was evident in their recent game against Seton Hall where they shot 27% from the floor.
Finally, Butler rarely fouls and normally operates with a short bench. Only 21% of total minutes come from their bench – the 8th fewest in the country. If the Cats can cause their tight rotation to either expand or play slightly more conservative, they’ll have a great chance end the losing skid.