Myles Tate fires a 3-pointer in Butler’s win over Providence earlier this season. Tate finished with eight points off 3-of-9 shooting in the Bulldogs loss to the Friars on Dec. 30. Photo by Zach Bolinger.
DREW SANDIFER | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
For the first time since 1998, the Butler men’s basketball team has lost four of its first six games. The Bulldogs fell to Providence, 71-55, on Dec. 30 and stayed on the east coast to play Seton Hall — who beat Xavier on the road, 85-68, on the same night. Here’s what you need to know:
Who: Butler vs. Seton Hall
When: Jan. 2, 4:30 p.m. EST
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
How to watch/listen: FS1/93.1 FM
1. Butler has their work cut out for them with guarding Sandro Mamukelashvili
In 2020, Seton Hall said goodbye to a program legend in Myles Powell. The No. 3 scorer in Pirates’ program history racked up a Big East Player of the Year Award, Jerry West Award for top shooting guard in the country and a consensus First Team All-America selection. Sandro Mamukelashvili has stepped right into those massive shoes early on this season as the leader of Kevin Willard’s bunch. The senior from Georgia, the country, has been a stat-sheet stuffer through 11 games, averaging 18.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. “Mamu” has had multiple 30-point games this season, each in wins over Penn State and St. John’s.
The Bulldogs have struggled this season facing the elite bigs in college basketball this year. Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 21 points on 7/9 shooting with eight rebounds and five blocks. Villanova’s Jermiah Robinson-Earl scored 18 points on 8/12 shooting. Providence’s Nate Watson averaged 18.5 points while shooting 9/12 in each of the Bulldogs matchups with the Friars. “Mamu” is arguably as good as any of those bigs and could have his way if Butler doesn’t gameplan accordingly.
2. Seton Hall is coming off their best performance of the season
Among the headlines coming out of the Big East conference in the early season was the Xavier Musketeers. Travis Steele’s group jumped out to an 8-0 start and a Top 25 ranking in the AP poll. The Musketeers welcomed the Pirates to the Cintas Center and got absolutely flattened. Seton Hall defeated Xavier, 85-68, in Cincinnati, but held a lead as big as 27 points at one point in the game. In fact, the Pirates have won six of their last seven and have been playing their best basketball of the young season including road wins over Penn State and Marquette.
However, that is not to say Butler is dead in the water coming into the Prudential Center on Saturday. Seton Hall’s lone loss in their last seven games was against a Providence team that the Bulldogs defeated on Dec. 23. The Friars were able to hold “Mamu” to 6-of-17 from the field while getting hot and knocking down half of their 3-point attempts in the 80-77 overtime win on Dec. 20. One thing is for certain — the Bulldogs will have to reverse some of their concerning trends to have a chance to come out of Newark with a win. Through six games, Butler ranks in the bottom 50 in the country in free throw percentage — 61.6% —, steals — 4.2 — and field goal percentage allowed — 50.2%.
3. Coach Jordan is looking for his first win in the Prudential Center
While Butler has struggled in this building going back since the beginning of the LaVall Jordan era, it would not be fair to say the Bulldogs were not competitive in those games. Butler fans will remember last year’s road meeting with the Pirates as “Mamu” sank a buzzer-beating layup off an inbounds play in a matchup of top-25 teams. In 2019, the Bulldogs fell by just a point on the road, while Butler fell in Seton Hall’s Senior Night in 2018. Ironically, Butler’s lone win in the Big East Tournament came against Willard’s crew, but the Bulldogs have struggled in New Jersey over the course of the last three seasons. Granted, Seton Hall usually has a substantial homecourt advantage with a sold-out Prudential Center. And it certainly helps to have someone like Myles Powell on your team, but only time will tell if the Bulldogs can get over their recent troubles in the Garden State.
Aaron Thompson remains questionable as of publication for this game. Seton Hall is featured at No. 38 in the nation via kenpom.com, good for third in the Big East, while Butler is found at No. 83 in the ranks, eighth in the 11-team conference. The Pirates feature a top-25 offense in terms of efficiency, Butler’s best opponent in that category not named Villanova. If Butler can’t contain “Mamu”’s damage inside, it could be a long afternoon for Bulldog fans.