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Butler vs Eastern Michigan Preview, Where to Watch, Picks and More

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

We’re almost there. Just right down to the home stretch. Two more sleeps as this piece goes live. The season is sooo damn close I can taste it. Without further ado, let’s preview Butler vs Eastern Michigan.


Spread: Butler (-16) (expected to win by 16 points)

TV network: Fox Sports App (Corrected as FS1 has whip-around coverage across the conference)

Time: 8 PM

Venue: Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse

The Bulldogs


As the weeks have passed, I’ve published a couple of pieces on this team, one previewing the season and one looking into what we learned from the exhibition games. Click the links if you want to see any of those.


The main takeaways for this game are that Butler will want to play faster, and has some worries in the frontcourt. Jalen Thomas missed the second exhibition game but is considered likely to play in this game.

The Opponent - Eastern Michigan


Rankings: 11 in MAC Coaches Poll (of 12), Ninth in MAC in The Almanac, 314 in Ken Pom (11 in MAC), 311 in Haslam (10 in MAC), 309 in Torvik (11 in MAC), 311 on SI (11 in MAC)


Eastern Michigan is coming off of another rough season. Having last made the NCAA Tournament in 1998, the Eagles have not won more than ten games since the 2019-20 season (16-16, four wins over non-D1 opponents, 6-12 in the MAC) and haven’t been above .500 in MAC play since the 2017-18 season. Coach Stan Heath is entering his third year at the helm of his alma mater, and in his first two seasons, he’s gone 18-44 overall and 10-28 in league play.


The Eagles also lost two very crucial pieces to their team from a season ago, as Forward Emoni Bates turned pro, and PG Noah Farrakhan transferred to West Virginia. Those two combined to average 32.3PPG, 9.9REB and 3.7AST per game. They were the two key pieces that kept Eastern Michigan competitive in big games, but losing those two guys means EMU likely loses their isolation-heavy offense, which could be a benefit. Bates had the freedom to take just about any shot he wanted, including 7.7 three-point attempts per game. Without that one-star, EMU should be a much more balanced offense.

The leading returner for the Eagles is 6’4” G Tyson Acuff. Acuff is a very skilled guard who led the Eagles in both assists and steals per game last season and was their second-leading scorer. Acuff, the Duquense transfer, returns for his junior season after being named to the All-MAC Preseason Second team. Acuff shot 45% from the field and 34.4% from three-point range (with very interesting home-road splits, he shot 40% from three at home, but only 30.2% on the road). He’s a very good scorer in isolation scenarios and will most likely be the go-to guy for the Eagles.


The Eagles also have a couple of former Big East guys, including Georgetown transfer Jalin Billinglsey, Providence transfer Legend Geeter (transferred after a redshirt, didn't play for the Friars) and former St. John’s commit John McGriff. Both Billingsley and Geeter stand at 6’8”, with Billinglsey more as a skilled forward (particularly from the high post/elbow area) and Geeter who has been employed at EMU more as a bruiser inside, albeit they brought in a couple of transfers to let him play more outside.

McGriff transfers in from Binghamton and will be fighting for the starting PG spot against sophomore Orlando Lovejoy. Lovejoy, the likely starter, is a PG who has some shooting woes but is possibly the best defender on this EMU team. McGriff is a very quick, left-handed PG who shot nearly 39% from three last season.


In Heath’s two years at Eastern Michigan, the Eagles have looked to push the tempo. They’ve finished 68 and 81 (out of 358 and 363) in KenPom’s adjusted tempo metric, and seem to want to do that again, with a more athletic, guard-oriented roster. Their defense last season ranked 341 in the country, meaning that their defense was essentially nonexistent. Their offense is less dynamic than it was a year ago with the loss of Bates and Farrakhan. They’ll play more like a team and give up less easy transition buckets, but I find it pretty hard to see this team breaking through or being a tough test to the Bulldogs.


Preview


Acuff is their go-to guy. He’s going to be the engine that drives their offense. He will likely play the 2 (SG), meaning that will be either DJ Davis or Posh Alexander’s matchup. If you can take Acuff out of the game, you can hold this EMU team down. Nobody else on their roster averaged over 6.2PPG last season. Butler should be the more athletic team, and while I’ve been worried about Butler’s team defense, EMU’s team offense hasn’t been anything these past few seasons. It’s a lot of ball screens and isolations.


I don’t think EMU is the team to bully Butler inside and both Telfort and Brooks have a combination of size and athleticism that EMU doesn’t have a match for. Butler’s deeper, more talented and should look good in this spot. EMU’s defense was pitiful last season, and offensively they don’t have the weapons, past Acuff, to cause real problems for Butler. Look for EMU to try to get Georgetown transfer Jalin Billingsley involved more, Coach Heath seemed to be talking him up in the Almanac.


EMU couldn’t stop dribble penetration at all last year. They should be slightly better in these areas, but give up something in star power, returning only one proven Division One piece in Acuff. EMU was a team you could bully last season, one that the Dawgs should muscle around and be more skilled than. There is some talent at EMU and if it gels properly they could be alright, but not enough to beat Butler.


Pick


This should be a showcase for Butler’s offense. Butler’s offense should look really good here. Even if Lovejoy is the stout defender they need him to be, Butler’s got guys at other positions. If Butler can shut down Acuff, it’s going to be a long night in Hinkle for the Eagles. Their other options aren’t consistent and proven, and Butler’s got guys who have been there and done that at this level.


Butler should smoke these guys.

Butler -13.5 is the side, and I will be looking for a team total over, I think Butler should be able to put up points, especially with how fast EMU wants to play. I think that plays right into Butler’s hands. Butler is so much more skilled in just about every spot and I think that will show as this game progresses.


*NOTE: Butler is now 16 point favorites. While I think they win by more than that, 16 is probably nearing my limit of Butler being the "value" side. Still think it's the right side, but 16.5 would be too much for me to recommend. I like Butler's current team total over of 78.5 more than the current spread.*


I know I go to school here, but I can put the bias aside in this matchup. I’m going to pick against Butler this season, but this isn’t the spot. This line is three points too short at a bare minimum. The faster pace should give us more possessions and more room for Butler to pull away and cover.


Final Score Prediction:


Butler 86, Eastern Michigan 62

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