#6 Villanova Wildcats (12-0) vs. Butler Bulldogs (10-3)
When: Wednesday, December 31, 2014, at 2:30 p.m.
Where: The Pavilion
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
Butler’s Previous Season Record: 14-17, Lost to Seton Hall in Opening Round of Big East Tournament
Key Players for Butler: #24 Kellen Dunham (6-6, 185) Jr., G; #21 Roosevelt Jones (6-4, 227) Jr., G/F; #31 Kameron Woods (6-9, 200) Sr., F
Scouting Report: Butler has more key players coming back than they do leaving. The Bulldogs are supported by a strong junior class led by Kellen Dunham. Dunham returns as the leading scorer for a team that had its fair share of bumps and bruises last season. This year, they seem to be on the right track and Dunham is one of the main reasons why. The junior guard is is averaging 16.6 points per game. While this may only be 0.2 better than last season’s average of 16.4, he’s doing it much more efficiently. Dunham is shooting an impressive 45.7% from long range and 45.8% overall. He’s also nearly automatic from the free throw line, sinking 88.5% of his attempts. Over the course of the last five games, he is a combined 23-for-25 from the line. He’s an excellent scorer who can make shots by attacking the basket or pulling up from the perimeter. He has been taking smarter shots, and is less reckless with the ball. After all, he doesn’t need to do everything anymore. The rest of the team has stepped it up. Roosevelt Jones returns after missing all of last season due to a wrist injury. Jones is an excellent finisher at the basket. He works well inside, as well as attacking the basket through a variety of ways. He currently averages 11.2 points per game. Jones is a tough player, his tenacity emerges each time he drives inside or fights for rebounds. One aspect of his game that needs work is his free throw shooting. He is shooting a mediocre 56.7% from the line. Helping Jones inside is Andrew Chrabascz and Kameron Woods. Chrabascz is a solid defender, but he has taken strides to improve his scoring. He averages nearly 10 points per game and has shown flashes of a long-range shot. Last year, he didn’t play much of a role in putting points on the board. He has refined his scoring ability and the work is paying off. However, he has been struggling from the free throw line. Last season, he sank 76.3% of his foul shots. This season? Only 52.8%. Woods is a great rebounder, with a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game. He is known for his defense and rebounding, but can quietly chip in points when needed. Woods averages 7.4 points per game, but has scored 10 or more points on multiple occasions. Also keep an eye out for Alex Barlow and Kelan Martin. Barlow is a decent three-point shooter, but has gone cold as of late. He played a big part in the upset win over then ranked #5 North Carolina. Barlow finished with 17 points, including four three-pointers. He is shooting only a combined 5-for-21 from beyond the arc for the last five games. As for Kelan Martin, he has a bright future ahead of him. Right now, he’s their top player off the bench and will have a starting spot one day. The freshman forward is averaging 10.0 points per game. He can score from anywhere, inside or outside. However, he is rather inconsistent. He can be quiet and struggle to put up three points, or he can make noise and have a 20-point night. It changes day-to-day.
Outlook: When these two teams met last year on New Year’s Eve, it was a tough game. Butler came in at 10-2, while Villanova was 11-1. The Wildcats won in overtime, and eventually captured the Big East regular season title. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs went on to only win four conference games. The circumstances are almost similar heading into this year’s matchup. Besides each team’s record being a little different, this Butler team is better than last year’s. Villanova is still good, but expect Butler to give everything they’ve got. The Bulldogs spent some time in the Top 25 and has some solid wins under their belt. They beat North Carolina and Georgetown at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. With that said, even with Butler’s improvement they still have some ways to go. As a team, they do not shoot well from the free throw line. Collectively, they shoot 65.3% from the line. Butler may play some solid defense, but they don’t really have size up front. Their starting lineup includes 6’9″ Kameron Woods and 6’7″ Andrew Chrabascz. In the two games against Butler last year, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu combined for 45 points and 20 rebounds. They will need to get things going down low, to open things up outside. Villanova cannot allow Dunham to get hot, while keeping an eye on everyone else. UNC lost, despite holding Dunham to a season-low 11 points. Martin, Jones, and Barlow are capable scorers. Villanova’s stifling defense has to keep these guys in check. The Wildcats are much more deeper, they have to use it to their advantage and wear them out. Darrun Hilliard is expected to return to the starting lineup. Hilliard sat out the previous game against N.J.I.T. due to injury.