Setting: With final exams in the rear view mirror, it’s a mid-major matchup at the Hinkle Fieldhouse as Chris Mack’s Xavier Musketeers (6-3) come a'calling on Brad Stevens and his No. 21 Butler Bulldogs (7-3).
Plot: Both teams are coming off big wins. Butler toppled Ohio State 74-66 while Xavier knocked off Cincinnati in double OT, 83-79. The game will prove important come Selection Sunday when the committee doles out seeds.
Subplots: Xavier and Butler represent two of the most successful college basketball programs of the last decade. From 2000-09 Butler holds a winning percentage of .729— 12th in the nation. Xavier earns the 14th spot at .727. Butler and Xavier are two of nine schools to win 25 or more games each of the last three seasons. The schools combined for 14 NCAA Tournament appearances during the 10-year span. Xavier reached the Elite Eight twice with one Sweet Sixteen appearance, while Butler advanced to the Sweet Sixteen twice.
Flashback: The two teams were rivals in the former Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Xavier leads the series, 28-15. Butler toppled Xavier at the Cintas Center last year, 74-65. Last time two met at Hinkle was the 1998 season opener. Xavier won, 73–66.
Tone: Both teams are proving their worth. Butler has played four ranked opponents: Georgetown, Clemson, Minnesota, and Ohio State. Xavier’s upcoming nonconference schedule includes, LSU, Wake Forest, and Florida.
Conflict: Xavier is 6-0 when scoring 70 or more. When holding opponents under 70, the Muskies are 5-1. Butler averages 69.7 points a game. Xavier ranks 11th in the country hitting 42.7 percent (70-164) from behind the arc. Butler has held opponents to 35 percent (60-171) on three-pointers.
Terrell Holloway(13-32) and Jordan Crawford (20-45) lead Xavier’s starters from long range. Off the bench, Brad Redford leads the A-10 at 52.8 percent (19-36). Butler’s Ronald Nored will chase Holloway. Last week, Nored held Ohio State’s Jon Diebler to seven points. Diebler entered the game averaging 17. Diebler did not score a field goal until the final two minutes of the game.
The 6′4″ Crawford will square off with Willie Veasley. This should be an interesting matchup. Crawford averages 18 ppg, but he struggled Sunday when having to slow down Cincinnati’s Lance Stephenson. If Xavier is to return to the NCAA Tournament, they will need Crawford to respond to assignments such as this. On Sunday, Crawford was caught up in the one-on-one battle instead doing what was best for the team. Veasley only averages 8.9 ppg but is capable of more. The senior scored 15 against Ohio State.
Shelvin Mack and Dante Jackson comprise the remaining perimeter. If allowed, Jackson can get hot. He opened the Crosstown Shootout with a pair of trifectas. Mack averages 14.5 ppg.
Inside the paint comes down to two premier players in the country: 6′8″ Matt Howard for Butler and 6′9″ Jason Love for Xavier. Howard is a smooth player that will force Love off the block. Butler runs several offensive sets where Howard will catch the ball at the high post or beyond. Love will need to stay disciplined and out of foul trouble.
On the other hand, Love averages 11 rpg including 19 against Cincy. When the ball goes up, Love is at his best.
Xavier’s Jamel McLean will have to keep pace with Gordon Hayward. The 6′9″ Hayward has scored in double figures every game this season. But most of his work is done in the paint. At 6′8″, McLean is difficult to keep off the boards. Hayward gives up 35 pounds in the matchup.
Hayward and Howard combine for 29 a game. Xavier blocked 11 of Cincinnati’s shots. The X-Men average five per game. Love leads the way at 2.6.
Resolution: Redford, Kenny Frease, Andrew Taylor, and Mark Lyons give the Muskies an advantage off the bench. The 7′0″ Frease can only be used sparingly. He will not be able to chase either Howard or Hayward. But if Butler gets in foul trouble, expect to see Frease logging plenty of minutes.
Lyons is a jet, averaging 9.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, and 1.0 spg.