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Villanova Basketball 2021-22 game preview: Butler Bulldogs

The ‘Cats return to the Wells Fargo Center to take on a Big East rival who is no stranger to success against them.

NCAA BASKETBALL: JAN 04 Villanova at Butler Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The ‘Cats are back at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since February of 2020 and they square off against a familiar Big East pest.

No. 14 Villanova (12-4, 5-1 Big East) will host Butler (9-6, 2-2 Big East) in Philadelphia on Sunday. The game can be seen on FS1 at 12pm EST.

The Bulldogs are tied for the second most Big East wins (5) against Nova since the realignment in 2013-14. The ‘Cats swept Butler during the first three seasons Butler was in the Big East, but are just 6-5 against the Bulldogs since ‘16-’17.

Although the LaVall Jordan era hasn’t been as successful for Butler as the Chris Holtmann era and nowhere near the Brad Stevens one, he’s still guided the Bulldogs to a season split each of the last two seasons. Both teams have successfully defended home court during these splits.

The Bulldogs are 1-5 against projected tournament teams this season. Their lone win was impressive though, getting a true road victory against Oklahoma in Norman. The Sooners are projected as an eight seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology.

They weren’t nearly as competitive in losses against Michigan State, Houston, or Purdue. They lost those games by an average of 23 points. Their closest loss of those three was 18 to Houston but were already down by 21 at halftime.

Although the Bulldogs aren’t on track for a tournament bid barring winning the Big East Tournament, this top 30 strength of schedule has prepared them for a high-quality opponent like Nova.

Eric Dixon Ascending

Eric Dixon is Nova’s third leading scorer in Big East play and its leading rebounder. He’s averaging 11.2 PPG and 7.7 RPG against Big East teams. He’s also shooting 53% from the floor and 80% on free throws. This is big time production from a first-year starter.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Dixon had 15 points and 10 boards against Xavier and did it in a variety of ways. He got to go to work 1 on 1 on the block, he was a threat in the pick and roll, and scored on multiple put backs from his own misses. Dixon’s rise has really added a new dimension to the Nova offense. This is evident by Jay Wright giving Dixon 30 minutes a game in conference play so far.

Butler’s best big is Bryce Golden and he should provide a solid test for Dixon. Golden has the mass to match Dixon’s and also had fluid feet like Dixon. Golden is Butler’s leading scorer, averaging 10 points on a really effective 62% from the floor but averages just four rebounds.

Butler likes to run Golden to the top of the key where they usually have him swing it to a guard then he positions up on the block where they get it back to him. His post moves aren’t too smooth, but he can be effective when he makes a move immediately after catching the ball which includes a turnaround pull up that he’s used.

Hopefully Dixon will get opportunities 1 on 1 in the post so he can get more experience in trying to finish in the paint against a player who can match his mass. It would be encouraging to see Dixon finish on his first attempt but that’s not to say his second efforts aren’t encouraging as well. His putbacks against Xavier were crucial during Nova’s first half blitz of Xavier.

Hurt ‘Cats

Brandon Slater is playing on a bum ankle and Jermaine Samuels is bothered by an abductor injury. Both of these injuries really limit change of direction. They both struggled against Xavier which included them both fouling out.

Slater’s ability to get to the rim and his defense on lead guards couldn’t be more important. The ‘Cats rely on Samuels in their switching defense and especially his strength that allows him to body up with bigger players in the post.

If these two are still bothered by injuries come Sunday, then Bryan Antoine and Jordan Longino will need to provide quality minutes. These minutes would be most important when one of them is guarding Butler’s point guard, Aaron Thompson.


NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The ‘Cats had a bit of a sloppy game on offense against Xavier, coughing it up 13 times. Jay Wright mentioned the turnovers a couple times when speaking post game. Collin Gillespie, Eric Dixon, and Caleb Daniels all had at least three apiece.

Butler averages almost 13 turnovers forced a game and allows teams only 11 assists per game. They have a top 40 scoring defense, giving up just 62 points per game.

It will be vital that Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore take care of the ball when setting the pace of the offense. Eric Dixon needs to be careful when he has the ball in the post and not dribbling into trouble or picking it up in a tough spot. Caleb Daniels also needs to be strong with the ball.

3-Point Game

Butler doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer well at all, ranking 242nd at 32% per game. They defend it pretty well though, only giving up 31% made on the season. The ‘Cats defend it a tad better, giving up an elite 30% made on the year.

Nova shoots 35% from three for the season but digging a little deeper, the numbers aren’t at that level. If you take out the wins against Mount St. Mary’s, Howard, La Salle, and St. Joe’s then they are shooting only 30.7% from distance. Those four teams are a combined 16-23. Now, those games matter obviously. Teams need to build chemistry and identify strengths and weaknesses in the early season. All those teams are D1 as well, so they count but Nova needs to make 3-pointers against good teams.

Gillespie, Moore, and Daniels are the real threats from three for the ‘Cats and all had a great game from beyond the arc against DePaul.

Hopefully, the ‘Cats can get good looks for those three players and start to turn around the shooting from distance.