Game Preview: Butler at #21 Providence
The Dunk. The RAC. The world lost two of its most iconic basketball arenas last year due to name changes. Nonetheless, the environment is still the same at the AMP (still a great name), as the Butler Bulldogs head to Rhode Island to take on the #21 ranked Providence Friars.
These two teams last met on December 29, 2022, and well, it didn’t go so well. At least for Butler.
What has happened since?
Butler has stunk. They are 3-4 since, which doesn’t seem too bad, until you realize their wins are over DePaul, Nova and Georgetown, and their losses are by 25, 16, 21 and 30 points. They have the worst margin of defeat across the entire conference, despite Georgetown losing 2 more games than them. Butler’s margin of defeat is 156, for a margin of defeat of 22.3 points. Georgetown has lost their nine games by 130 points, for an average margin of defeat of 14.4 points.
Providence has continued its unbeaten streak in the AMP, with wins over Marquette and UConn, en route to their 4-2 record since this matchup, with their two losses being close games at Creighton and at Marquette, two very excusable losses. Bryce Hopkins has emerged as an All-American level talent, and guys like Devin Carter, the Butler killer, have emerged as consistent secondary options.
Keys to The Game:
Providence is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Providence, despite not having that true center this year, is absolutely destroying teams on the glass. Naturally, Butler is one of the worst teams in the conference on the glass, so if they want to keep this one close, it will require an all-hands-on-deck effort in the rebounding battle.
They're in sixth now. Goodness me, how the mighty have fallen.
Providence is second in the country in total rebounding percentage, with a rebounding percentage of 56.5%. Only Purdue is better. The Friars are absolutely excellent on the glass and have used their rebounding to bully teams and generate extra possessions.
For Butler, there is only one team in high-major basketball, DePaul, that is worse than them on the glass. Their ranking of 320 at 46.4%, really reflects how often they get beaten on the glass. Over the last three games, three games without Bates, Butler’s rebounding percentage is 35.1%, which might just be the worst in the entire country.
The game was well beyond in hand at this point (ESPN's play-by-play also lists this as a Pierce Thomas defensive rebound for some reason), but if you want a textbook example of "wanting it more," here it is.
The rebounding battle told the story of this matchup in the first game. Providence absolutely dominated Butler on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 45-28, and will look to do so again.
Defending Without Fouling:
This is a matchup between something that both of these teams do well, so I’m very intrigued to see how this one matches up.
Butler is the best team in the country at defending without fouling. Butler averages only 12.8 fouls per game, and only fouls on 18.5% of defensive possessions, both of which rank at the top of the entire country.
On the other hand, Providence gets to the line at will. They are inside the top 10 in free throws made per game, and free throws made per 100 possessions.
In the first matchup, Providence was 14/17 from the free-throw line and forced Butler to foul more than they are accustomed to. This was part of the reason that Providence was able to control this entire game.
While Butler isn’t very good at forcing fouls and getting to the free-throw line, due to their love of contested mid-range jumpers, Providence has been very good at defending without fouling. Providence ranks inside the top 50, only averaging 15.1 fouls per game. This ranks fourth in the Big East, behind Butler, Creighton and shockingly Georgetown.
Butler doesn’t attack the rim and get to the free-throw line much, but if they want to stay competitive in this game, they might have to. Butler’s two games with their highest free-throw rate are the two wins over DePaul and Villanova, their two best Big East wins.
Butler needs to be aggressive in this game and matches the energy that Providence brings in this one.
Bryce Hopkins and Devin Carter:
In the first matchup, I was quite certain Bryce Hopkins was going to have a massive game. Butler doesn’t really have anyone that can match up with him and I thought he’d be able to feast on both ends. I still think he’s a matchup nightmare for the Bulldogs, but he actually wasn’t the guy in the first game.
Despite the huge win for the Friars, Hopkins could not get going offensively. He had a season-low 6 points and shot a season-worst 25% from the field. He was able to rebound and defend at a high level, but could not get going offensively.
Devin Carter, however, had one of his best games of the season. He was absolutely incredible. He had 21 points on 9/16 shooting, with 18 of those points coming in the first half. Carter was able to take his game to another level and completely controlled this game on both ends. Providence was able to effectively grow its lead as a result of Carter’s effectiveness on both ends.
I’m very curious about how Butler matches up against these two. I am very confident Hopkins will put up more than six points in this matchup, but with how effective Devin Carter was at getting any shot he wanted, I have no idea how Butler will be able to stop him.
There’s no reason I could pick Butler in this one. None. This team is free-falling. They haven’t been competitive in Big East play, aside from against their fellow bottom feeders. Since conference play began, according to BartTorvik, Providence is the 13 best team in the country, compared to Butler’s 207.
As unbelievable as it is, even to me, Butler is actually the worst team in the conference in that stretch, according to BartTorvik. Both DePaul and Georgetown rank at 181 and 182 respectively.
Butler’s offense is the worst unit in the conference in this stretch, ranking at 288, with an effective field goal percentage of 44.7%. As a result of Butler’s affinity with contested mid-range jumpers, Butler’s two-point percentage of 41.8% ranks 360 (out of 363 teams) in the country. It’s baffling.
These have been playing in two entirely different leagues in conference play. Providence has been leaps and bounds better than Butler. Even with Manny Bates potentially returning, why would I expect today’s game to be any different?
Final Score: Providence 75, Butler 54