Game Preview: Butler at UConn
Remember the good old days? Yes, you all know exactly what I’m talking about. Right before conference play, these teams had optimism, UConn to win a national title and Butler to make an NCAA Tournament. Well, it’s safe to say that conference play hasn’t been too kind to either of these teams. The Big East is pretty mean, man.
Either way, this is a rematch from each team's conference opener.
What Happened Since?
Butler has been blown out by Creighton, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Creighton (again) since. However, Butler has beaten DePaul, Villanova and Georgetown since, good enough for a 3-5 record. It has not been a great stretch for the Bulldogs, and now with Manny Bates out for the foreseeable future, it could be getting even worse.
In my mind, at the time of the first matchup, UConn was the best team in the country. I no longer think they are the best team in the country. Much like Butler, since the first matchup, UConn is 3-5, with wins over Georgetown, Villanova and Creighton, and losses to Xavier, Providence, Marquette, St. John’s and Seton Hall. Head Coach Dan Hurley and assistant Kimani Young missed Wednesday’s loss to Seton Hall, due to testing positive for COVID-19 (can’t this thing just go away?) and we now know their status for this matchup.
UPDATE: They're back
Keys to the Game:
Ok, so these teams have struggled since their first matchup. Who puts that struggle behind them, and how?
Teams do not shoot the three-pointer well against UConn. They also don’t get many opportunities from distance. This has actually remained pretty constant in their losing streak, as their opponents are only shooting 24% from three over their last three games. It’s difficult to get good looks against this UConn defense, and that’s something Butler has struggled with all season.
In games when they don’t shoot 40+% from the three-point line, Butler is 2-8 on the season, with wins over New Orleans and California. They’ve only lost once shooting above 40% from three, and that was in their last game against Creighton. How you lose a game by 20+ points, despite shooting 57% from three is beyond me, but that’s beside the point.
Butler needs to get going from the outside to stay competitive in this one. Their offense has been atrocious in conference play. Since the conference opener against UConn, Butler’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranks 291 on Barttorvik, just below Alabama State. This is the worst offense in the Big East by over 70 spots. The only high-major offenses that are worse are the historically bad Louisville Cardinals and Oregon State.
To compare, UConn’s defense, which has gotten worse in conference play, still ranks 40 in defensive efficiency during this stretch. It’s been worse, but still leagues above this Butler offense. Unless Butler is knocking down some three-point looks, this game could get ugly, fast.
Their defense hasn’t brought them down to this point, it’s their offense. According to Teamranking’s non-adjusted offensive efficiency, UConn’s offense ranks 21 in the country with an efficiency of 1.098 points per possession. Their rating over the last three games of .995 would rank T189 with UT Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Caroline (three spots below Butler’s season-long rating, which would rank T307 over the last three games, but that’s beside the point).
So, why has their offense been so much worse in conference play? Well, there are a couple of answers, but the one I’m going to focus on is turnovers. UConn averages the eighth most assists per game in the country, with 17.6. Over the last three games, their average of 15 assists, would still rank inside the Top-50.
If we’re looking at shooting percentages, over their last three games, they are shooting 2.8% worse from both the field and the three-point line, compared to the season at large. When you’re consistently going against better competition, it makes sense that these numbers dip a little. Plus, after how awesome they were to start the season, it’s natural that your offense regresses a little bit.
But, the turnovers are alarming. Over the course of the season, UConn is averaging 12.9 turnovers per game, and has a turnover percentage of 18.4%. Over their last three games, UConn is averaging 18.3 turnovers per game and has a turnover percentage of 25.8%. These turnover numbers aren’t great in the first place, but my goodness they’ve been so much worse over these last couple of games. These numbers would rank DEAD LAST IN THE COUNTRY if you applied them to the full season.
It got worse since this game. 89 assists to 93 turnovers.
If UConn is going to step out of this slump, they will have to keep much better control of the ball. The turnovers are killing this team.
In the first game, UConn absolutely torched Butler on the glass, and that was with Manny Bates. UConn won the rebounding battle 54-30, 18-4 on the offensive glass. With Manny Bates’s status in question, this number could get even uglier.
UConn is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Their total rebounding rate ranks ninth in the country. They rebound very well on both the offensive and defensive glass (ranking 16 and 20, respectively) and are known to just bully teams on the glass. Their rebounding won them the first game, when neither team was shooting the ball well, UConn was able to generate second-chance opportunities and eventually allowed them to break away from Butler.
Butler just doesn’t grab offensive rebounds (third-worst high major team), are ok on the defensive glass (T224 in defensive rebounding rate), combining for an overall rebounding ranking of 289. They have the second-worst rebounding rate in the Big East, only DePaul is worse, and if you expand that to all high-majors, you only add Notre Dame to the list of teams who rebound worse than Butler.
UConn should be able to absolutely feast on the glass.
I don’t know if you can tell from reading this, but I think UConn absolutely curb-stomps this Butler team. I don’t think this game is competitive. I’m done trying to give Butler any sort of benefit of the doubt. This team isn’t making changes, they have the wrong guy at PG, can’t stay competitive against decent opponents, wave the white flag at any sign of adversity and aren't well-coached. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes more contested mid-range jumpers than this Butler team.
Again, I’m not saying there’s no room for optimism for the future of Butler basketball, but I don’t think that starts tomorrow. I don’t see how this game is competitive. Butler will settle for awful shots, UConn is at home in a perfect bounce-back spot, will destroy Butler on the glass and get out in transition.
UConn is the more athletic team, they are the more physical team, they are the better shooting team, they are the smarter team, their shot selection is better, etc. Butler will have to shoot incredibly from three-point range (something that doesn’t happen to UConn), force turnovers (maybe?), and actually score the ball (which they can’t do) to win this one. UConn is a horrible matchup for this smaller Butler team. UConn has the length to disrupt them at every position and is the better team overall.
Final Score: UConn 78, Butler 54