After a refreshing Christmas Break, we’re finally back to Big East action, as the 10-3 (2-0) Providence Friars take on the 8-5 (0-2) Butler Bulldogs in Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. These squads have had at least a week of rest and should be ready to put on a show. Without further ado, some keys to the game.
So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this Bryce Hopkins guy on Providence is alright. He’s pretty good, you know. He just had a casual 29 points and 23 rebounds over a then Top-25 Marquette team. No big deal, right?
In terms of this game, there’s a chance Hopkins matches those numbers. If there’s one matchup Butler has struggled with all season, it’s the athletic, physical wing. Keyontae Johnson of Kansas State had 20 points and 12 rebounds on 9/9 shooting. In terms of this matchup, Johnson and Hopkins are almost identical. Johnson is an All-American caliber 6’6’ 230 pound, incredibly athletic and skilled wing. Bryce Hopkins is a near All-American caliber 6’7” 215-pound, athletic and skilled wing playing the best basketball of his career.
Ed Cooley does an excellent job of putting Hopkins in positions to succeed, as my colleague Ryan pointed out, and in a matchup like this, I would expect Providence to attack relentlessly.
Against Keyontae Johnson, Butler did everything they could to get the ball out of Johnson’s hands, but once he got it they generally left him one-on-one, to try to limit anyone else from getting good offense off of Johnson. Butler had multiple guys on him, with Jayden Taylor (6’4” 195lbs) getting the bulk of the assignment. Maybe here, we see more different looks on Hopkins with Ali Ali, DJ Hughes and Jalen Thomas being healthy for this matchup.
From Butler’s nightmare matchup to Providence’s, Manny Bates is a dominant force inside. He’s got some old-school to his game, on a preview show (yes, this is self-promo check it out) we did, Matt compared him to Nate Watson, for you Providence fans. I think it’s a pretty apt comparison. Bates isn’t the physically imposing threat that Watson was, but has a softer touch, as he’s not afraid to knock down an open 17-foot midrange jumper.
Manny Bates is awesome, though. He’s been crucial in keeping Butler afloat this season. His ability to play a full forty minutes in some highly intensive games has been gigantic. He’s the guy that Butler turned to against Kansas State, in Butler’s biggest win. Bates was the reason they won that game. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds in that spot, and it felt like he made a huge play every single time Kansas State got back into the game.
Providence hasn't gone against a big like Bates yet, but Eddie Lampkin of TCU is similar enough, for comparison's sake. Lampkin is a very nimble big man for a 6’11” 263-pound guy, who had by far his best game of the season against Providence, putting up 16 points and 12 rebounds, with both numbers being season-highs. Manny Bates is a much better offensive player than Eddie Lampkin and looks to be a matchup nightmare for this Providence squad.
I’d expect Ed Croswell to have to guard Bates for the majority of this game, with many double teams probably thrown in there. Croswell is three inches shorter than Manny Bates, and that could hurt him in his matchup. Look for Providence to expect some spot minutes from both Rafael Castro and Clifton Moore, who can match Bates in height, though both have struggled on the defensive end this season.
Point Guard Struggles
Both teams have had their problems with point guard play this season. Both teams are expecting a lot from their good lead guards, and today’s game will be a perfect spot for these guards to show they’ve still got it.
Jared Bynum is a name that probably brings up bad memories for Butler fans, as he anchored Providence’s comeback victories over the Bulldogs, in both Hinkle and MSG. There was a stretch of play last season, through most of February, where Bynum was one of the best players in the country. He was just unstoppable, and that was the guy who showed up in Hinkle Fieldhouse with the game on the line.
He ended last season averaging over 12PPG and four assists per game, with incredibly high expectations entering this season, as he was a Preseason All-Second Team selection.
Sadly, he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Though Bynum’s assists numbers have gone up, he’s averaging just under 9PPG and shooting only 34.5% from the field, 7% worse than last season. He’s only 20.4% from three-point range, which is less than half of as good as he was last season (41.3%).
For Butler, Purdue transfer Eric Hunter is the floor general this season. He was a starter on a Purdue team that made a Sweet 16 last year, and made the Big Ten All-Defensive team a season ago. Hunter was expected to make a big impact for this Butler team this season.
He has, just not consistently. He was excellent in Butler’s win over BYU, totaling 19 points on 6/9 (nice) shooting. But, in Butler’s four most important games of the season (against Tennessee, UConn, Creighton and Penn State), Hunter is averaging 3.75PPG, 1.75 APG, 2.25 turnovers per game, on 20% from the field and 0/16 from three-point range. If Butler wants to put a run together and knock off top-tier competition, Hunter is going to have to step up.
These guys are both better than they have played this season. Bynum was one of the best players in the country through the month of February. He was unstoppable. Hunter wasn’t a high-volume scorer at Purdue (they had some guys names Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey that are pretty good), but he was a guy who coach Painter trusted to play big minutes in their runs in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
This is a tough game to predict. But, as I said many times on our preview show (did I mention we had a preview show for this game?), Hungry Dogs Run Faster. If going 0-2, with a margin of -44 doesn’t light a fire under you, I don’t know what will. If you want to build momentum, Butler needs to win this game. They need to come out here, ready for everything. You are going to have to take this game away from this Providence team.
However, last game Butler played soft. They got out-toughed, and frankly manhandled by Creighton. Coach Matta repeatedly questioned their toughness, and the guys didn’t answer. If you are getting out-toughed by Creighton, GOOD LUCK against an Ed Cooley team. No shot you can play like that and belong. They’d bully you off the floor in seconds. No questions asked.
Providence has been on a bit of a run lately. Losses to Miami and TCU, two top 15 teams in my mind, neither of which came at home, are fine losses. SLU hasn’t lived up to expectations, but that’s a really talented team, that also beat a borderline Top-25 Memphis team. They’re a much better team than they were in those games, as BartTorvik.com lists Providence as the 26th-best team in the country in the month of December.
Butler will need to shoot the ball well from three. Their win/loss splits from deep are insane. Providence isn't a particularly good three-point defense, as they allow opponents to shoot 35.2% from deep, for 246th in the country. Butler will need to hit outside shots, and keep this Providence team off of the glass.
This is a really good Providence team and should make for a very fun basketball game. It’s going to get gritty and competitive, but in the end, I think Butler takes this one. Call it bias, call it whatever, but I think Butler has the pieces to win this game. They should be desperate, they’ve played much better at home this season and I think this game plays out a ton like the Kansas State game. Do whatever you can on Hopkins, but shut everyone else down and make Hopkins have to put up 30+ to beat you.
Final Score: Butler 75, Providence 67
Ha! You thought you'd get away without one more shameless self-promo! You fool!