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Butler vs. #1 Villanova: Three Things to Watch

The Bulldogs won’t do it again, right?

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Butler Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Butler and Villanova meet again on Saturday, at 12 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Center. If you can’t make it to the game, it will be on FOX. As it stands right now, Villanova has an 86 percent chance of winning Saturday’s game against Butler (according to KenPom.) I don’t know about you guys, but I’m still going to have to drink about a half a box of wine at the tailgate to go into Wells Fargo confident in a win.

Villanova comes out ahead in nearly every single category. In fact, the only stat Butler has more than us that it allows less points per game to opponents. Why is it that the seemingly inferior Bulldogs strike fear into the heart of so many superstitious Villanova fans? It all has to do with the past, and big moments that were painful to watch.

Recent Losses

Both teams are coming off of a loss, and undoubtedly hungry for a victory. For Villanova, a painful game against St. John’s knocked them down a few pegs on Wednesday, Feb 7th. St. John’s took us by storm (... get it?) and beat a No. 1-ranked team for the first time since 1985, outscoring them 79-75. In the past five weeks I’ve gotten used to bragging about my team’s No. 1 in the nation ranking, but for the foreseeable future will have to let that go.

Butler had a rough loss to Xavier the day before Villanova fell, going down in overtime, with a final score of 98-93. The Bulldogs might not seem to have a chance, but it should be noted that just two weeks ago they easily handled St. Johns, coming out ahead 70-45. (They held the Red Storm to just 10 first half points.) Seeing the Wildcats fall to a team whose score they nearly doubled must have lifted a few spirits, and given them the confidence they need to take on the number one ranked team in the nation (I’m using that while I still can.)

On the other hand, Villanova notoriously doesn’t like to lose, especially in back-to-back games. The ‘Cats always bounce back extremely well.

When we talk about Villanova losses, Butler’s name routinely comes up. In the past two seasons the Wildcat’s have lost a total of five times, and three of them were to Butler. A thorn in our side that sometimes cuts deep—let’s not forget last February when the 48 win run streak at the Pavilion was ended by the Bulldogs—Butler is the one team that always seems to find and exploit our weaknesses. Saturday’s game is going to be at the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova’s current home away from home. It seems that more students than usual are planning to make the trek into Philly for this game, so hopefully an electric home crowd will help the Wildcat’s pull out a win.

It’s a Fluke, right?

Villanova’s defense has been streaky this season, but the Bulldogs’ performance against the Wildcats was unparalleled. Butler dropped 101 points against Villanova and didn’t make many mistakes after grabbing the lead going into halftime.

The Bulldogs shot 15-of-22 (68.2 percent) from deep. They also beat the ‘Cats on the boards, taking a 37-26 advantage on the glass. Despite this, Butler isn’t known for being a phenomenal three-point shooting team, or a glass cleaner.

They are ranked 111th in the country in terms of long range shooting, converting on 36.1 percent of takes from beyond the arc. Also, Villanova struggled to find any rhythm from deep, even though Butler is a terrible at defending the perimeter—as opponents have drained 37.5 percent of threes against them. (291st in the country)

It’s felt like a while since the Wildcats last beat the Bulldogs, as Butler has won three-straight meetings against Villanova. Last year, it seemed so easy to say that Villanova would win the grudge match at home at the Pavilion. While the Bulldogs took some Hinkle Magic with them on the road to end that impressive home streak, it’s hard to see them doing it again—even though the Wells Fargo Center might not have the same home court advantage as the more intimate Pavilion.

Who’s Who

Against Butler, Villanova’s defense needs to turn it up a notch—or four. The key players to stop will be Kelan Martin, Kamar Baldwin, and Paul Jorgensen. Martin is a factor on the boards, while Baldwin is a two-way presence that can do a little of everything. Jorgensen is a three-point threat, although he’s slowed down a bit from earlier in the season.

As always, look for the six-foot-three Junior Jalen Brunson to keep the Wildcats in order, and make sure Jay’s basketball robots are functioning properly. He’s averaging just under twenty points per game. Look for Collin Gillespie to possibly start against Butler. Gillespie shined against the Red Storm and Villanova might bode better in a smaller lineup against Butler. Fellow freshman Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree grabbed starting honors on Wednesday, but had far less total minutes than Gillespie. As the older guys seem to be breaking down, it’s time for the young ones to step up and help Villanova out of the funk they might have found themselves in.