Butler head coach LaVall Jordan directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against DePaul on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Chicago. Butler won 67-53. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
- The Butler Bulldogs (5-8, 4-6 Big East) host the Xavier Musketeers (10-2, 3-2 Big East) Saturday, Jan. 30
- The Bulldogs are coming off a loss to UConn, while Xavier has had four straight games postponed due to coronavirus issues
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
The Butler Bulldogs (5-8, 4-6 Big East), down to eight scholarship players, will host the Xavier Musketeers (10-2, 3-2 Big East) Saturday, Jan. 30 in Indianapolis. Tip is set for 5:30pm ET inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Butler converted only 5-of-20 layups against the Huskies Tuesday, snapping a mini-two-game win streak in the 12-point loss.
Meantime, Xavier hasn’t played since Jan. 10. The current stretch is the second extended COVID pause for Travis Steele’s team. How will the Musketeers look Friday?
Xavier vs Butler Odds
|Xavier||-1.5 (-118)||-134||Ov 132.5 (-110)|
|Butler||+1.5 (-104)||+114||Un 132.5 (-110)|
Odds taken Jan. 29 at FanDuel
We’re 12 games into Xavier’s season and it’s maddeningly hard to gauge the Musketeers. They’ve been really good, as demonstrated in a 99-77 win over Oklahoma and really bad, like being on the wrong end of an 85-68 home loss to Seton Hall.
Now, after having its most recent postponement this week due to COVID issues inside the Georgetown program, Steele’s squad makes the short trip from Cincy to Indy. The Musketeers will try to snap a three-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
#Xavier opens up the 2nd half with a plethora of TRIPLES to blow this game wide open beating Oklahoma 99-77 @the1paulscruggs @zachfreemantle @WLWT #LetsGoX pic.twitter.com/bkVm8RS2O0
— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) December 10, 2020
The 2020-21 version of Butler simply isn’t the same we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the last 15 years. Dating back to the 2005-06 season, the mid-major power has won at least 20 games in every season except for two. That includes back-to-back national championship game appearances in 2010-11. But LaVall Jordan’s squad is currently projected to finish 9-13 by KenPom — a far cry from the heights this program has been in recent memory.
That’s a big reason why Xavier, despite its long layoff, is favored Friday.
All For One
The Musketeers enter Friday’s tussle at Hinkle as the Big East’s fifth-rated team by KenPom at No. 51, behind only Villanova, Creighton, UConn and Seton Hall. That’s two slots above where Xavier landed in the preseason rankings. A big reason why has been the play of sophomore Zach Freemantle, who leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per per game — good for eighth-best in the conference. He is second on the team and fifth in the Big East in rebounding at 7.9 rebounds per game.
Zach Freemantle has a little Tyler Hansbrough to his game. Tough as hell, just goes at you, doesn’t back down, rebounds at a high level.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) December 10, 2020
It would appear Steele is headed for his first trip to the NCAA Tournament since taking over for Chris Mack following the 2017-18 season. Along with KenPom’s rating, the Musketeers rank No. 35 in the NCAA’s NET standings.
The rest vs rust question will be answered early, but it seems they’re a better unit than the home team Friday.
Not Your Father’s Dawgs
Butler just isn’t as good as it has been in years past. The Bulldogs were slated to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll and are currently sitting in the ninth spot in KenPom’s conference ratings, ahead of only DePaul and Georgetown — a pair of teams that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
The Bulldogs finished fifth in the league lats year, going 22-9 and 10-8 in Big East play. The team is anchored by a trio of seniors, including guard Aaron Thompson. Thompson is averaging 12.5 point per contest and a team-high four assists a game.
He’s not the best player in the conference, but there is no more important or valuable player to his team than #2. Aaron Thompson is a tough basketball player! #Butler
— Michael Lofton (@Raphael986) January 7, 2021
The 6-foot-2 Maryland native missed three weeks of action earlier this season and has become a legit difference maker — especially on Butler’s home court — as he’s developed into one of the team leaders. To wit, Butler’s home record over the past two seasons when Thompson plays is 16-2. When he doesn’t, the Bulldogs are 2-3.
With Thompson set to go Friday, he could be the x-factor for the underdog Dawgs.
Depth a Factor
As noted above, Xavier has lost three straight to Butler. But if the Bulldogs don’t make bunnies, the Musketeers should easily come out on top.
Plus, it was announced just before Tuesday’s game against the Huskies the Bulldogs had lost reserve freshman forward JaKobe Coles to a torn meniscus in his left knee. The 6-foot-7 Dallas area native is out for the season.
Also, sophomore Markeese Hastings, who had been on leave since Jan. 16, has decided to opt out of the rest of the season over COVID-19 concerns.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
While Hastings hadn’t been a big contributor, the loss of Coles is a tough one to swallow. He’s the second forward in Butler’s touted recruiting class to go down. Scooby Johnson was lost to an ACL tear before the season even started. Butler’s lack of depth now becomes an even bigger factor.
While it’s unlikely Butler will shoot as poorly as it did against UConn (going only 35% from the field), Xavier is hungry to get back on track with a victory. That’s why I love the Musketeers in this spot.
The pick: Xavier -1.5 (-118)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.