Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
-- On the last night before the holiday break, we’re quite fortunate to get an early present, as a couple of excellent games highlight today’s action, including #32 Butler (9-1, 2-0) facing #29 Xavier (9-1) in Cincinnati.
Xavier had an undefeated season going before this weekend, having won the Puerto Rico Tip-off with wins over Missouri and Memphis, and picked up a good win in the cross-town rivalry with Cincinnati. However, the Musketeers had a total disaster against Duke, falling behind quickly and trailing by more than 30 at half-time. Butler’s lone loss was more respectable, coming by three points at Ohio State, and it has some decent wins as well, beating the like of Northwestern, Evansville and Drake.
Xavier’s offense wasn’t particularly effective against Duke, mostly because their strongest ability, getting to the free throw line, was negated by the Blue Devils’ defensive play. The Musketeers have been good three-point shooters, but they tend to struggle with turnovers, an area where Butler should cause them a lot of trouble. Xavier should be able to take advantage of Butler’s propensity to foul, but will have to be effective at the line, given that Butler defends shots well from inside and outside.
Unsurprisingly, Butler runs a perimeter-oriented offense that focuses on ball control and taking and making a lot of three pointers. Their inside play is their biggest weakness, as they shoot a poor percentage on two-point shots and often get blocked. This profile should lead to an interesting matchup, as Xavier tends to defend the inside very well, holding opponents under 40% from two, while dominating the defensive glass. The Musketeers force few turnovers and allow opponents to score from the three-point line, a combination that really hurt them in the Duke game, and could cause trouble if they can’t improve in these areas against Butler’s proficient perimeter play.
Butler is a very young team, led by a sophomore in CHN preseason All-Horizon player Matt Howard, and starting three freshmen. Howard is the only Butler player who rarely shoots from three, but is a strong inside scorer who gets a lot of free throw chances and leads the team in rebounds. The most efficient player is one of the freshmen, 6-8 Gordon Hayward, who shows a great three-point shot and is one of the better Bulldogs on the glass. Hayward’s performances have been one of the reasons that Butler has been such a surprise in the early going. Shelvin Mack is another strong freshman, shooting decently, and leading the team in both points and assists, while controlling turnovers effectively. Ronald Nored is another starter, but takes relatively few shots, and doesn’t play much of a role in the offense. Junior Willie Veasley is the most experienced starter, while sophomores Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant also play in the backcourt. Alabama transfer Avery Jukes is the main forward coming off the bench.
Four strong players form the backbone of the Musketeers, playing the majority of the team’s minutes. B.J. Raymond is a hot-and-cold scorer, putting up 32 against Auburn, but only 3 in the Cincinnati game. When he’s on, Raymond hits a good number of threes and does well on the defensive glass. Junior Derek Brown leads the team in scoring, a 50% shooter who makes nearly 45% of his threes. 6-6 C.J. Anderson is a good inside shooter, over 50% on the season, while sophomore Dante Jackson’s percentages are quite poor, though he is good from beyond the half-court line. Jason Love is the fifth starter, and leads the team in rebounding despite playing fairly little. Tulsa transfer Jamel McLean has been a very effective inside scorer off the bench, while 7-footer Kenny Frease is still fairly raw. The main cover in the backcourt is freshman Terrell Holloway.
While Butler definitely has the potential to cause Xavier a lot of problems, the inside ability of the Musketeers should be enough to help put the hosts back on track with a good win. If Butler can effectively shoot over the Xavier defense, they will be able to hang close, and the game will likely be low-scoring enough that a good run could result in an upset.
Winner: Xavier Margin: 4-8