Scouting Butler vs. Xavier - Opening Round BIG EAST Tournament
Andy Mac Williams,
Scouting Xavier vs Butler-Opening Round-BET-Wednesday March 9th at Madison Square Garden. Tip-off 4:30 PM EST-TV FS1). Muskies need to win this one to ensure NCAA Tournament IMHO. X stopped the bleeding w/ Saturday's 97-75 Cintas win over Georgetown. The NCAA resume' is decent (18-12, #36 NET, 5 Quad 1 wins, 5-7 away from Cintas,impact "Ws" over UConn, Ohio State,Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Marquette, Creighton twice) but a rash of upsets in conference tournaments could rain on Muskies' BIG DANCE parade if they slip up and lose to Butler in NYC. Butler sits at #129 NET so a neutral court loss to Bulldogs would be a damaging Quad 3 "L" for XU.
363 days ago XU lost to BU 70-69 in OT at MSG blowing a 17 point lead then missed out on NCAA. The 2022 Xavier team has a much stronger resume', but those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
X can call their own shot here by winning. Nate Johnson did not play for Xavier last March(leg injury). He's back after 4 games out and playing well(11 points at St Johns-25 vs G-town).
Jack Nunge has been added this season(BIG EAST Honorable mention performer-13PPG-7.5 rebounds-1.5 shots blocked).
Zach Freemantle was hurt midway thru 2nd half vs Butler a year ago. He should be amped playing near his New Jersey home on the court that hosts his beloved NY Knicks. He's played well in two previous games at MSG and burned Butler for an efficient 23 at Cintas Feb 2 in a 68-66 XU win(Xavier also beat Butler 87-72 in Indie Jan. 7th).
First year Muskie Jerome Hunter has scored 20 points in the two wins over BU. Frosh BIG Cesare Edwards did not play in either Butler game, but he is now growing factor in XU's rotation.
Butler is 13-18 w/ a current 5 game losing streak. Their only NCAA hope is 4 wins in 4 days in NYC. BU is stocked w/ veteran experience starting w/ Super Senior PG Aaron Thompson(among BE leaders in assists and steals).
Sophomore guard Chuck Harris buried XU last March at MSG w/ 21 points in 2nd half comeback and overtime. The wild card is burly SF Bo Hodges. He's an aggressive driver and defender who's healthy-playing 30 + minutes/game and scoring well(15PPG-5 REBS-last 4 starts).
Fifth year Coach LaVall Jordan starts two veteran BIGS-6-9 Bryce Golden and 6-7 Bryce Nze. Both are skilled shooters and passers. The bench has been shortened lately to two talented Frosh-6-4 Jayden Taylor a good shooting hybrid 2 guard-small forward. 6-6 Lithuanian import Simas Lokosius plays "3" and "4" w/ creativity and confidence. He's a very skilled coaches' son.
Butler has given up 74 PPG over the 5 game bad stretch and scored just over 60/game. That's skewed by blow-out losses at St Johns and home to Villanova. They can be nasty against anybody when working their solid defense and knocking down "3s". BU has struggled to score all year, but if they can keep the score in the high 50s to mid 60s they can beat you.
Butler lost recently to PC in OT at Hinkle and lost way by 6 at Seton Hall and by 8 at Marquette. It behooves XU to push the score above 70 and speed the game up.
The small line-up that did so well vs Georgetown Saturday may work well( 3 guards plus Colby Jones at "4" and Jack Nunge at High Post). Aaron Thompson can only guard either Nate Johnson or Adam Kunkel-not both Kunkel has enjoyed a couple HUGE games off the bench vs BU(15 and 25 points The drive and dish game has been working well vs BU lately. They just assault drivers so smart passes to wings yield open step-in "3s".
The 3 point FG has been a major detriment for Butler lately( last 5 games-BU 28-103 for 27%-Opponent 43-117 for 37%). That's a 9 point deficit per game- a huge hole for a team that is not getting to FT line a lot and shooting only 68% when they get there. 3 point shooting can turn on a dime.
X needs spurtability fueled by defensive stops and one and done enemy possessions and strong glass work and ball sharing offense. Time to replicate Saturday's effort versus Georgetown-play freely and knock out Butler.
Top Seed Providence will be waiting rested and ready Thursday at Noon-TV FS1. The NCAA pressure is basically off if XU survives Wednesday and advances to PC.