Game Preview: #13 Xavier at Butler
Basketball on a Friday Night? Yes, please. Hinkle Fieldhouse will be rocking, as the place has been sold out for a couple of days, as the #15 Xavier Musketeers (a little low imo) travel to Indianapolis to take on the "undefeated in their last 1 games" Butler Bulldogs.
So, I sent out a tweet yesterday. The school loves to pitch this game as a rivalry. I never bought into it. Xavier’s main rival is that other school in Cincinnati. So, there’s no way they have the heart for a complete rivalry with Butler.
And in that sense, I’m right. Every single Xavier fan who responded (thanks a ton for all the responses everyone, made my life much easier here and I loved reading just about every single one) said Cincy is the #1 rival, but if we’re talking in conference play, it’s Butler. But in the sense that I didn’t buy this as a rivalry, I was wrong. The results showed it. I did have a couple of takeaways from this tweet though, so if you don’t want to go out and read the entire thread (I’d encourage you to but, I'm gonna link a few tweets anyways), I’ll go through them now.
#1: Rivalry is much more real on the Butler side. I didn’t get a single Butler person to say “no” and I got a couple of “nos” or “sure, you reach the top 3 or 5 of Xavier rivals” from the Xavier side. Still, there’s some animosity from both sides.
#2: The water fountain story. Man, I heard this one a lot. This seems like the origin of the beef, and I had absolutely no idea about it. Should’ve done my research. The more you know. Love this story though, I really wish I had heard about it before.
#3: It’s lost its spark a bit: My generation of students didn’t have the water fountain story. In the Big East, there’s never been more than a couple of close games in March, between two non-tournament teams. And while these teams had some battles in the MCC, there isn’t enough history there for it to be amongst the nation's elite, and be something that stands the test of time. Maybe the hiring of Coach Matta can bring this back (there's definitely still some beef there).
#4 My biggest takeaway is that Butler doesn’t do a great job of promoting themselves or this rivalry. You could argue this is equally on Xavier, but they have UC. The word isn’t out there, and I put that on Butler. Butler is known to have a much smaller presence on social media (Hinkle will sell out when they're good, you can’t deny that) and hasn’t done a great job of promoting themselves more than “Final Four 2010 and 2011.” That was over ten years ago.
I’ve asked a large number of students who Kamar Baldwin is, and maybe 10% of kids had a clue. The dude was Butler Basketball for four years. Yet, you rarely see his shot over Villanova, or any of his other game-winners, on the Hinkle jumbotron or on socials. The same thing goes for this rivalry. Nobody knows about the Water Fountain story. That’s the perfect level of mean-spirited and goofy for me to buy all the way in. There has to be a joke to be made there. Something has to be done to try to promote it more than just saying “Xavier=Rival.”
For the most part, the people who follow me and RTTG are all in on Big East hoops. They’re in the loop enough to where they 100% should know about this. Yet, +23% don’t. I didn’t, and I’ve grown up with this league. That’s on the school. If you want this rivalry to feel real, you have to make it feel real, you have to tell the story behind it.
So, my conclusion (opinion) is... it's more real than I thought, but there's still a "little brother" element to it all. The chant of "Xavier Sucks" before games not against Xavier is cringe. But, there's something here that makes it more special than any other game, but there's so much more that can be done to make it feel that much more real.
Joey Hauser is somehow still in college like wtf
If you disagree or have anything to add here, feel free to tweet at me. I love hearing perspectives and learning about this sort of thing. And of course, if you feel the need to yell at me over the internet, you can do that too.
Ok, now back to the typical preview:
Both teams have one key injury. Starting with Xavier, we know for a fact Zach Freemantle will not be taking the floor. Freemantle is a crucial piece to this team, he’s good just about everywhere. He’s the second leading scorer for the team, he’s the leading rebounder, he’s an excellent stretch five-man, an underrated playmaker, and plays with that New York/New Jersey swagger and toughness.
In his spot steps Indiana transfer Jerome Hunter, who gives the team a more four-out one-in look, with Nunge taking over at the five. In their one game without Freemantle, Hunter was absolutely spectacular in locking down Bryce Hopkins and really provides that toughness and energy. He’s a better athlete than Freemantle, though doesn’t match his offensive skill. Still, Hunter has emerged as a key piece for this Xavier team and will have to keep elevating his play, to keep Xavier atop this excellent conference.
For Butler, we’re unsure if Chuck Harris will play. Harris is this team’s second-leading scorer and is a very underappreciated creator, also placing second on the team in assists. He's a massive piece for this Butler team. If he doesn’t go, expect to see a lot more Jayden Taylor, who started in Harris’s spot the last two games and has scored 19 points in both games.
These two injuries are where you have to start if you want to tell the story of this game. How does each team battle through it? Only time will tell.
The Three-Point Line:
Xavier is the best three-point shooting team in the country. Yep, you read that right, they’re the best three-point shooting team in the country. Just about everyone they play shoots 40+% from deep. It’s just insane, they don’t miss from deep. They’ve had 7 games this season where they have shot 50% from three. They’re an incredible shooting team, and if they get going, this game is over.
On the other side, they defend the three-point line incredibly poorly. Their opponents shoot 37% from deep, which is the second-worst in high major (Big East, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, SEC) only to, shockingly (to nobody) Georgetown. In three of their five losses, Xavier’s opponents have shot 45% or better from distance. They’ll make a ton of threes, but they will allow you to do the exact same.
Butler defends the three-point line pretty well. Opponents shoot 32.1% from deep against the Bulldogs, which ranks 81 nationally. In conference play, Butler’s opponents are shooting 34.3% from deep, which ranks middle of the road in the conference. In games where Butler’s opponents shoot above 30% from three, Butler is 5-12 (2-4 when the opponent shoots +40% thanks to the Johnnies and St. Francis (PA), though it does include Butler’s two biggest conference wins over Villanova and St. John’s, both in Hinkle.
Butler’s three-point offense is a focal point of this game. Butler has now won three games this season where they shoot below 40% from three, beating St. John’s, California and New Orleans. Interestingly, in the ten games where Butler has taken their highest percentage of three-point attempts (aka the games where they took more threes than normal), they are 7-3, including their wins over Kansas State, Villanova and St. John’s, arguably the three biggest wins this season.
If Butler wants to win this one, they will have to take and make a ridiculous amount of threes, and match the barrage that Xavier is capable of putting on just about anyone.
This is the last key, and it plays a huge role in this game. Who’s able to impose their will in this massive game?
Xavier likes to play fast. Very fast at that. Xavier ranks 24 in the country in tempo and will do everything in their power to play space and pace basketball. They play fast, push the ball up the floor, space the floor incredibly well, and use this to get some open looks outside, or mismatches inside with their post players.
Butler’s in the 200’s, ranking 244 in tempo. They play slowly. They like to drain the air out of the ball and prevent their opponent from building any sort of momentum and like to force a more halfcourt-oriented game. They will want to do everything in their power to drain the air out of the ball for this action-packed Xavier offense and slow this game down.
Butler’s transition defense has struggled at times this season. In certain games, they’ve really struggled to get back in transition, and against a team like Xavier who uses transition to create mismatches and force chaotic rotations, your transition defense will be put to the test. All five guys will have to be aware at all times and get back on defense.
Xavier hasn’t lost a game this season that has played 75 or more possessions, and they will look to continue that streak against the Bulldogs.
Xavier’s the better team just about everywhere. Maybe I’m just a cynic, or a pessimist or whatever word you want to use, but I don’t think this game is close. Like at all. Butler doesn’t defend in transition well, Xavier is the faster team, Xavier is the much better offense, Xavier is vastly superior on the glass (even without Freemantle), Xavier doesn’t take many bad shots, and Butler takes far too many.
You can’t have a 3:00-long drought against this Xavier team. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but a fluky home win over a St. John’s team that has quit on their coach isn’t enough to pull me out of reality. St. John’s should have won that game like seven times, and just didn’t. I’d love to be wrong, but who stops all these Xavier shooters? Who’s the matchup for Colby Jones?
Butler has scored more than 70 points once in their last nine games, and that was the win over Villanova. Xavier has scored less than 70 twice this season, both in losses to Duke and Creighton, respectively. I don’t think this Butler defense is enough to keep Xavier under 70, so I’d have to hope Butler’s offense shows up and is incredibly efficient, and I haven’t seen a complete offensive performance from this team just about all season.
I was stunned the line opened up Xavier -5.5 That’s incredibly low. Insanely low. Butler has as many 20-point conference losses as the rest of the conference COMBINED. Butler has only lost one conference game by less than 15 points, and that was the most recent Marquette game. I have no idea why this number was so low, and I expect a smackdown from a well-rested Xavier team.
Final Score: Xavier 82, Butler 61