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Game Preview: Butler Bulldogs

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'Cats and Dogs square off for a second time this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Purdue Boilermakers vs Butler Bulldogs Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a big victory over St. John’s on Tuesday, No. 8 Villanova (15-5, 10-2 Big East) will look to continue building momentum when it takes on Butler (8-13, 7-11) Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The game is at 12:00 p.m. ET and will be airing on CBS.

Last Time on Cats vs. Dogs

Villanova and Butler have already faced off the season. Back on December 16, in Villanova’s Big East home opener, the Wildcats easily beat the Bulldogs, 85-66, earning Jay Wright his 600th career win as a head coach.

Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led the way for the Wildcats, with each scoring 18 points in the contest. Guard Jair Bolden, who also scored 18 points, was the best player for the Bulldogs.

A lot has changed since then though. Last time these teams faced off, Butler was coming off a three week COVID-19 hiatus and was missing six players due to COVID-19 protocols. Despite the fact that this Butler team is not as good as some Butler teams of the past, it enters this Sunday’s game with a healthy squad and a bit of momentum, having beaten Seton Hall on Wednesday. With Villanova possibly looking ahead to its rematch with Creighton next Wednesday, this could very easily end up being a trap game for the Wildcats.

The Backcourt Matchup Will Be Key

Guards Chuck Harris and Jair Bolden are Butler’s two leading scorers and best players. One of the main reasons that Villanova so easily beat Butler in December was that it held Harris and Bolden to only 30 combined points. With Butler having very few other consistent offensive options, containing Harris and Bolden should again be the main focus of Villanova’s defensive gameplan. Gillespie and Justin Moore will likely be the ones primarily responsible for guarding Harris and Bolden. However, do not be surprised if Coach Wright decides to put Brandon Slater on either player at some point in the game because of his length and athleticism.

On the other end of the floor, Villanova will likely center its offensive game plan around scoring from the arc. Not only is that the identity of this team and program, but the Wildcats also shot 43.5% from downtown last time they played the Bulldogs and 42.3% in their most recent game against St. John’s. If Butler’s guards cannot figure out how to contain Gillespie, Moore, and Caleb Daniels from behind the three-point line, the Wildcats could run away with this game.

Defense Wins Championships

Early in the season, Villanova’s defense did not look great, but the Wildcats were still finding ways to win. Then two weeks ago, Creighton put up 86 points on 59.3% shooting from the floor and 46.2% from beyond the arc. In that game, Villanova did not look anywhere close to a team that could compete for a championship this season. However, Villanova responded by allowing only 60 and 58 points against UCONN and St. John’s respectively in each of their last two games.

This Villanova team is good, but it has nowhere near the offensive firepower of Villanova’s recent championship teams. Although Villanova could easily rely on outscoring opponents in the past, if this team wants to make a run in March, it is going to have to play really good defense. Although Butler averages only 64.5 points per game, which is second lowest in the Big East, another strong defensive performance from Villanova would go a long way toward building confidence as the Big East and NCAA tournaments rapidly approach.