Butler huddles during the Bulldogs’ 69-64 win at Georgetown on Jan. 28. The Bulldogs host Providence at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb. 1. Xan Korman / Collegian file photo.
CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
After starting Big East play 3-0 for the first time ever, the Butler men’s basketball team fell into a three-game skid. Now, after winning their last two contests in dramatic fashion – against Marquette in overtime and Georgetown after overcoming an 11-point halftime deficit – the Bulldogs are looking to pick up a third straight conference win once again as they welcome the Providence Friars to town for a Saturday matinee.
For the Bulldogs, this game begins a stretch of four out of their next five games being played at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Friars, meanwhile, will be playing in their third road game in two weeks. On Jan. 30, Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said that Aaron Thompson, who’s been sidelined for the past two games due to a left wrist injury, remains day-to-day, meaning his availability for this game is still unclear.
Providence is the first Big East team to conclude its regular-season series with Butler. Here’s what you need to know as the Bulldogs prepare to take on the Friars for the second time this season:
Who: No. 16 Butler (17-4, 5-3 Big East) vs. Providence (11-10, 4-4 Big East)
When: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
How to watch/listen: FS1, 93.5FM/107.5FM/1070AM
- After winning its first three Big East games, Providence has struggled since its loss to the Bulldogs.
On Jan. 10, Butler picked up its third consecutive victory to open conference play with a 12-point win over the Friars. Butler limited Providence to just 18 first half points on 20% shooting from the field and Jordan Tucker came off the bench to score a season-high 17 points on 7-of-11 from the field along with tallying six rebounds. Additionally, three other Bulldogs – Kamar Baldwin, Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze – finished in double figures, while Sean McDermott finished just shy with nine points.
The Bulldogs’ victory snapped a three-game winning streak for the Friars. Since that game, Providence has dropped three of its four contests and is currently on a three-game losing streak. Those three losses were all to AP top 25 opponents, though. Providence fell to then-25th-ranked Creighton and then-10th-ranked Seton Hall by four and nine points, respectively. In their most recent game, the Friars lost to then-ninth-ranked Villanova at home by four points. The Friars, who have lost 11 straight games against ranked opponents, currently sit at 4-4 in conference play and are in the 70s in both the NET rankings and at KenPom.
- With a lack of high-end scorers, poor shooting efficiency and a slow pace, the Friars have plenty of limitations offensively.
Providence has simply not been a very good offensive team this season, coming in at 125th in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom. One significant issue is that while the team has depth, it lacks star power. Eight Friars are averaging six or more points per game, but only two are averaging over 10, and no players are averaging more than 14. In Big East play, sophomore David Duke leads the Friars with 13.4 points per game, a mark 15th in the conference. The team’s leading scorer this season, Alpha Diallo, is averaging just 12 points per contests in conference action. While both players are capable of big games, Providence simply lacks the go-to player capable of scoring 20+ on a semi-regular basis.
In addition to lacking high end scoring talent, the Friars are not a good shooting team. Their field goal percentage this season of 40.1% is outside the top 330 nationally. Providence also doesn’t fare decently with a particular type of shot either. The Friars’ 3-point field goal percentage of 29.1% and 2-point field goal percentage of 44.3% are both among the bottom three marks in the Big East.
Providence also doesn’t attempt to make up for its shooting difficulties by running a fast-paced offense. The Friars are 175th nationally in tempo, according to KenPom, and their mark of 66.4 possessions per game is last in the conference. All this adds up to Providence averaging just under 71 points per game. In conference play, that number drops to just under 68.
- For Butler, the recipe for success against the Friars should remain the same: control the interior.
Last season Butler lost the battle on the boards against Providence in all three matchups between the two teams. The Bulldogs’ frontcourt has shown drastic improvements this season, something that was extremely easy to see in the first matchup this season between Butler and Providence. The Bulldogs out-rebounded Providence 44-26, with the +18 rebounding margin being the second-highest for Butler this season. Butler shot 50% from beyond the arc, but only took 12 threes, instead focusing primarily on the interior and working out from there.
In that game, Butler converted 58% of its 2-point attempts, got to the free throw line 21 times and scored 36 points in the paint. Six Bulldogs tallied five or more rebounds. In short, Butler completely dominated the interior, an approach that could certainly prove effective again. If Thompson, the team’s primary ball distributor, is sidelined again, increased importance will be placed on the likes of Baldwin and Tucker getting the ball inside to Golden, Nze and Derrik Smits. If the Bulldogs can control the interior anything like they did in Rhode Island, they’ll be well on their way to a third-straight win.