There was a stretch in the old Big East where Villanova played pretty regularly at Marquette on New Years Eve or New Years Day to open league play. Last year, the Big East (with heavy input from their TV partner, no doubt) decided to kick things off with all ten league teams opening their conference schedules on December 31st, in a back-to-back marathon on Fox Sports 1.
That kick-off sent Villanova to Indianapolis for an exciting game against new conference foe Butler last year. This season, the 'Cats will host the Bulldogs at the Pavilion in the afternoon, before the fans all head out to pop champagne and celebrate.
Dirkus Callahan of ButlerHoops.com answered some questions for us about the Bulldogs, their season, and the new Big East's impact on the school. ButlerHoops.com will have our answers to their questions on Villanova as well.
(1) It doesn't count (in anything but our hearts), but having already knocked off Georgetown, does having a league win already change the outlook or mentality of Butler heading into conference play?
I think it makes a huge difference, especially given that Georgetown swept them last year, and that they start on the road with 2 of the strongest teams in the league (Nova and St. John's). Without that win, if they start out 0-2, the players might start thinking "here we go again...", but in getting that they know that even a 0-2 start isn't necessarily the end of the world. It would probably also behoove the coaching staff if that happens to let them know that Providence started out 0-2 in the league last year and everything turned out okay for them.
(2) Probably the biggest story line for the Bulldogs was the sudden departure of Brandon Miller on a leave of absence before the season. Has that brought on any changes for the team, or is Chris Holtmann running things about the same way?
He's essentially running things the same, though he does have a few wrinkles in their offensive sets and out of bounds plays that he's broken out from time to time. The biggest difference is in how they handle the players on the team. Chris will get into guys, but he's definitely not a fire and brimstone kind of guy that Brandon Miller was with the team last season, and I think the team has really responded well to him for the most part. We'll definitely know more on Miller's (and Holtmann's) status soon once Brandon's leave is over shortly.
(3) Having Roosevelt Jones back on the court seems to be a huge positive for the team, what sort of difference does it make ti have him out there?
Jones brings a lot to two areas of the team. Defense and leadership. Defensively, he'll likely be matched up with Hilliard for most of the game and he can be pretty quick for a guy that's listed at 6'4, 227 lbs but in all likelihood is more like 240 lbs, and he's pretty long as well. He's also a guy that's been through the wars before and helped Butler win some big games, so it has definitely been a welcome sign seeing him back. Offensively this season he's struggled with his shot against the football 5 and Big East opponents, shooting only 29% from the field in those 5 games (shoots just a hair over 50% in their other contests), and if Butler wants to do well in the Big East, that number's going to have to improve.
(4) We're pretty familiar with most of the returning players on Butler, but which newcomers are likely to give the Wildcats fits?
Really the only one that's likely to give the Wildcats a fit is Kelan Martin, a guy who actually looks like he'd fit in pretty well in Villanova's lineup. He's listed at 6'6, 215 lbs, but according to Coach Holtmann, he's closer to 230 lbs (not sure what it is, but a lot of guys on Butler's roster don't weigh what they're listed at). He's brought in to score, plain and simple, and while his outside shot has been a little streaky, he's been pretty consistent at finishing near the rim in traffic. The other newcomers that will play are Tyler Wideman and Austin Etherington. Wideman is a big body (listed at 6'8, 245 lbs), who is a solid defender and rebounder, but his offensive game is still very raw. Etherington is an Indiana transfer who provides some experience and hustle to the team, but he hasn't been able to find his outside shot yet this year.
(5) Butler has some very good wins, but also three losses to Oklahoma, Tennessee and Indiana. Based on results so far, what do you think the ceiling is for them this season?
The ceiling for this team is likely to be an NCAA tournament bid. I think based on the team's struggles to score against other major programs, they're going to have a tough time doing much beyond that no matter how good their defense is (and it's been very good thus far).
(6) Surely the new Big East compares favorably to where Butler was a few years ago, but what are your thoughts about the league overall? What would make it better? Do you feel like Butler has started to develop any rivalries in this group?
The league is by far superior to where Butler was at a few years ago, but it provides significant challenges that Butler never faced in the Horizon League and Atlantic 10. In those leagues Butler was towards the top of the conference's basketball budgets, and in the Big East they're all the way at the bottom of the league in finances, not to mention the level of recruits Butler gets against the rest of the league is much lower than it used to be. Personally speaking, I love the league. From being able to see Butler and conference foes on TV for nearly every single game rather than searching Russian websites to watch, to having home contests against well-known programs like Villanova, it's a dream come true for a fan. As for rivals, Xavier was a big rival for Butler even before they were in the Big East together (though I don't think the feeling is necessarily mutual), but I think it's too early to really tell how other rivalries will develop with the rest of the league at this point.
(7) Better movie: Hoosiers or Blue Chips? (Full disclosure: Blue Chips is my favorite basketball movie).
Hoosiers, and it actually has nothing to do with the multitude of Butler connections in that movie (filmed in Hinkle, the real-life version of the Jimmy Chitwood character, Bobby Plump, played at Butler in college). Hoosiers is just a great movie that's watched religiously throughout homes, schools, churches, bingo halls and meth labs of Indiana. I can't tell you exactly how many times I've watched Hoosiers (it's more than 50). I can tell you exactly how many times I've watched Blue Chips (once), and that was filmed in the gym where our high school sectionals took place (and in the same arena where Director of Basketball Operations Brandon Crone played his high school ball). I'm not even sure that Blue Chips is shown anywhere religiously but Nick Nolte's house. Okay, maybe Shaq's, but only when he needs a break from Kazaam.