After an off day for both teams, Butler and Boise State will clash in the fifth-place game of the ESPN Events Invitational. Both teams lost their first game in close fashion, against FAU and Virginia Tech, respectively (the teams that meet up in the Championship). Then, both rebounded with a win in their second game, Butler defeating Penn State and Boise State defeating VCU.
Spread: Boise State -1.5
Time: 4:00 EST
Venue: State Farm Field House in Kissimmee, FL
While this is technically branded as a “fifth-place game,” the winner will leave with their heads held high, going 2-1 and coming away with multiple wins that will matter in March. For Butler, getting some positive momentum out of this early-season tournament would be huge, as they’ve rarely had momentum these past few seasons. With that said, let’s look at their opponent, the Boise State Broncos:
Boise State Basketball
Boise State is coming off of an NCAA Tournament bid last season, where they fell in the first round to Northwestern 75-67. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament in both of the last two seasons, including winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament in 2022, but have yet to advance past the first round under Coach Leon Rice in four appearances.
Boise State returned three of their five starters from last season’s team, including their two leading scorers, F Tyson Degenhart and G Max Rice. Degenhart missed Boise State’s first game due to a facial injury but has played the last four games with a mask. He’s a versatile, below-the-rim 6’8” F who can stretch out and knock down a jumper, or post up on the block and finish with either hand. He averaged 14.1PPG last season and put up 18 points in their loss to Virginia Tech this season. He’s an All-Mountain West Preseason First-Team player for a reason, he can really play.
G Max Rice was on the All-Mountain West Second Team as a sixth-year senior and is an absolute sniper from deep. Rice shot over 40% from three last season and has to have the attention of the defense at all times. He’s only shooting 24% on this young season, but make no mistake, Rice can really shoot it. Also, because he’s 6’5”, Rice often posts up smaller guards. They feed him the ball a lot in the post and let him go to work, either shooting over a smaller defender or finding the open man.
Both Cam Martin and Tyson Degenhart are good shooters and great passers, so it enables them to run this pretty intricate five-out offense. Their big men move the ball very well, with Cam Martin, a 6'9" F, leading their team in assists. It’s going to be tough for Butler to guard, all Butler defenders will have to be locked in and on the same page, otherwise, Boise State will catch you for easy buckets.
Their guard play is a huge question this season with the loss of Marcus Shaver, who was their leader and floor general for the last three seasons, and they haven’t found a true replacement yet. Lastly, do-it-all guard/wing Chibuzo Agbo is their leading scorer at 15PPG, shooting 49% from the field and 39% from three and is one of the most athletic players on this roster.
Keys to the Game
Boise State looks to slow the game down offensively. The more they can run through their sets and create mismatches, the better they are. They don’t have a true PG who has emerged yet (Roddie Anderson looks to be that guy, but he hasn’t been productive this season), and as a result, can really get flustered. If Boise State is able to slow this game down, they will dissect this Butler defense in the halfcourt, and make it harder for Butler to get out in transition.
Butler, on the other hand, thrives when they create chaos. Butler’s defensive pressure is one of the biggest changes from last season to this season. Either Boise will be able to exploit this pressure and find open cutters, or Butler will break Boise’s ball handlers and create turnovers, leading to easy runouts. Boise State had 16 turnovers in their loss to Virginia Tech, leading to 19 fast break points for the Hokies.
In Butler’s wins, they are averaging 22.75 points off turnovers, 14.25 fast break points and 15.5 turnovers forced. In their losses, Butler is forcing 10 turnovers, scoring 12 points off of those TOs and averages only four fast break points per game. Butler needs to force turnovers and convert points in this game. In their losses, Boise State is giving up an average of 13.5 turnovers and 22.5 points off of those turnovers.
If Boise State wants to win, they have to get into their offensive sets effectively and control the ball. If Butler wants to win, they have to create havoc and score off of turnovers.
Neither team has shown to be great on the glass. Butler was vastly outrebounded in their defeat to FAU, and Boise State was absolutely destroyed on the glass in their loss to Clemson, losing the rebounding battle 40-25.
Boise State as a team doesn’t really look to crash the offensive glass, ranking 328 in the country with an offensive rebounding rate of 19.5%. In turn, Butler needs some work on the defensive glass as they collect only 69.9% of their opponent's misses, ranking 257 in the country.
Boise State is a smaller team, using multiple 6’8”/6’9” forwards at the five spot, to free up their offense. As a result, Boise State looks to get back in transition, trying to prevent easy buckets off of their misses. Butler on the other hand was torched on the offensive glass by FAU, allowing the Owls to recoup 50% of their misses, which was the difference in that game. Butler has to make sure to box out Boise’s big men, and not give this offense many second chances.
Boise State does well on the defensive glass, collecting 74.4% of their opponent's misses, ranking 133, and Butler collects 24.2% of their own misses, ranking 249.
Defending Without Fouling
Despite the defensive pressure Butler applies, the Bulldogs are not whistled for much. Butler averaged 14.8 fouls per game, which ranks 38th fewest. The Bulldogs have done an excellent job at defending without fouling this season.
That said, the PG and leader of this Butler team, Posh Alexander was in foul trouble against Penn State. Butler’s backup PG Landon Moore was able to hold the fort down against Penn State, but would he be able to in this one? Butler could really use Alexander’s defensive pressure he will put on these inexperienced Boise ballhandlers, it could change this game.
On the other end, Boise State gets 21.8% of its points from the free-throw line, which ranks 93rd. Boise State is able to effectively get inside and force you to foul them when they are flowing offensively. They shot 73.7% from the line last season, and shoot 72% from the line this season, despite a poor performance against San Francisco (12/23). They’re a good free-throw-shooting team that will convert from the line if you let them.
Mini Side Note: Boise State’s free throw discrepancy has been pretty wild this season. Boise State’s opponents are shooting an unstainable 84.3%, while only Providence and UT Rio Grande Valley have opponents shooting better from the line. I don’t expect that to sustain this season, I think this will regress as the season goes on.
Coming into the season, I thought Boise State was one of the most underrated teams in the country. I had them ranked #19. I loved them this season. While I still think they are underrated, some of their flaws have been shown and made me have to back off of this take.
Roddie Anderson and Jace Whiting haven’t stepped into that PG slot as I would have liked. I thought Anderson would have been their floor general immediately, and probably expected too much on a sophomore transfer from UC San Diego, even if he played really well to end the season. I think this is something Butler absolutely takes advantage of.
Also, while the additions of Cam Martin and O’Mar Stanley were huge, they’re still getting beat on the glass. I thought those two moving Degenhart to the four would have done wonders for their rebounding, and kept the same offensive effort, but it hasn't. You can beat this Boise team on the glass, or just out-athlete them.
With all that said, I actually think Butler matches up really well with Boise State. Butler’s guards should be able to apply pressure and Boise doesn’t attack the offensive glass which would cause Butler huge problems. Butler's wings are really athletic which is a huge advantage, as they can blow by Degenhart/Stanley/Martin for easy points. Butler's the more athletic team and can really use that to their advantage in this one.
I think Boise's offense is intricate and will cause Butler problems, especially with only one day to prep. It’s unlike anything this Butler group has faced, and should lead to easy looks. Especially with some of the defensive questions I have with this Butler team, I think Boise will exploit some of those issues.
Defensively, while Boise was great last season, they aren’t the same this season. Marcus Shaver was a legit defensive stopper with quick hands, and Naje Smith was a solid shot blocker. Those two guys were the anchors of this defense, and losing them makes their defense worse. While I don’t expect opponents to shoot 84% from the free-throw line for the rest of the season, I think their defense is worse than last year's, which finished at 28 in KenPom.
I think if Butler’s guards can provide pressure and show their experience, Butler will take over. Posh Alexander will have to be really good in this one to give Butler a win. Need him on his A-Game and defending with pressure, but avoiding a lot of the ticky-tack fouls he’s been called for in these last few games. If he can play a full 30 minutes, I think Boise will struggle to get into their sets, and he could blow up a couple of their actions just by being as good as he is defensively.
I think this is a very high-scoring game. Butler should be able to get to the rim and score, and Boise State will run sets that will get some easy looks. I think Posh’s leadership should allow Butler to control the pace and come away with this one.
Butler 86, Boise State 82
I like the over. Not shy about that, especially based on my score prediction. I'm a little worried since the efficiency-based overs are usually harder to predict, but I think the over is the pick here. As I am writing this, Vegas has the total at 147, which is pretty high, but lower than what KenPom has it at. I hope it comes down, closer to the numbers that Haslam and Torvik have this total at, but I played it at 147 medium, and will look to add to it closer to tip time if the number goes down.