Aaron Thompson directs Butler’s offense. Thompson and the Bulldogs take on the Villanova Wildcats at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 22. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo.
JOSH MULLENIX | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Now 3-3 in Big East play, the Butler men’s basketball team welcomes the reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats to Hinkle Fieldhouse. Here’s what you need to know as the Bulldogs try to improve to over .500 in conference play.
Who: Butler (12-7, 3-3) vs. Villanova (14-4, 5-0)
When: Jan. 22, 7 p.m. EST
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
How to watch/listen: FS1, 107.5 FM/1070 AM
This is still a really solid Villanova team despite early season struggles.
The Big East was considered one of the most competitive conferences in the country this season due, in large part, to the Wildcats’ nonconference performance. Villanova’s early season struggles included back-to-back home losses to Furman and Michigan and then another loss to Pennsylvania. However, since losing to Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 15, Villanova is 6-0 overall and 5-0 in Big East play. They have two road conference wins, including a double-digit at Creighton, a win over a borderline top 25 team in St. John’s and a comfortable 10-point win over Xavier in their most recent contest. The Wildcats now sit alone atop the Big East Conference and are the highest ranked Big East team according to KenPom, sitting at 27th. Granted, this is not a team with the same firepower as last year’s national championship squad, but it is still led by one of the game’s best in head coach Jay Wright and two very capable, experienced seniors.
Villanova’s senior leaders have been dominant the last four weeks.
Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have been unstoppable over the last month. Since a 29-point performance at Kansas, Booth is averaging 22.6 points per game while shooting 49 percent from beyond the 3-point line. The 23-year-old is a veteran who has stepped up in a big way for the Wildcats. Not to be outdone by his fellow senior, Eric Paschall has been equally impressive in that same seven-game stretch. The forward is averaging 19.6 points and 7.6 rebounds over the last month. Paschall, in particular, will present a dangerous matchup for the Bulldogs at 6-foot-8, 255 pounds. He rebounds the basketball at a high rate and is shooting the deep ball at 37 percent this season. Whoever is assigned Paschall on defense will be tested all over the floor.
Butler’s depth, and more specifically, Jordan Tucker.
In Villanova’s four losses, the Wildcats’ bench has failed to score more than 15 points and against Kansas, there were no points recorded by a reserve. On the other hand, Butler’s bench has been a major area of advantage in the last couple of games. Granted, the Bulldogs have benefitted from Jordan Tucker’s 19 and 24 points off the bench against DePaul and St. John’s but the edge on the bench is not just coming from Tucker. While putting Tucker in the starting lineup is tempting, plugging him in to replace Henry Baddley would put a lot of stress on Paul Jorgensen to bring offensive firepower off the bench. In recent years, Villanova has had great depth when healthy bringing future NBA players like Donte DiVincenzo off the bench the last couple of years. This year the depth favors the Bulldogs and Villanova doesn’t have the luxury of bringing a proven scorer off the bench like they have in years past.