INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - In order to get you ready for arguably the biggest game in the history of Hinkle Fieldhouse, between No. 18 Butler and No. 6 Villanova, InsidetheDawgPound got a little insight on the Wildcats, Butler, and the matchup from VUHoops.com's editor Brian Ewart.
InsidetheDawgPound: What are your overall impressions on the Big East this season?
Brian: This season has definitely been an improvement over last year. There are a few schools in the league that should be able to get to the NCAA tournament, and a lot of teams that can ruin your weekend. That's definitely a step forward, and if recruiting stays strong, the league should only get better and more interesting.
InsidetheDawgPound: How many teams from the Big East do you think will make the NCAA Tournament?
Brian: Joe Lunardi has the league with 6 teams in. I think four or five will still be in the picture next month, but it doesn't seem so far off. The league did very well in the non-conference games and that should set some schools up well.
InsidetheDawgPound: What are your impressions of how Butler has fit into the Big East?
Brian: They were the "odd" school in a way, since it isn't a religious university like the other 9 schools, but in most other ways Butler is a cultural match for the league. It's a school that loves basketball, has a good history in the game, and a certain determination to remain on top.
InsidetheDawgPound: Do you think Villanova fans (or yourself) are happy with the new Big East conference?
Brian: Last season, the Villanova fans' approval rating of the Big East wasn't so great, but I think with the way this season has gone so far, the tide is turning in favor of the new league. Everyone wishes that the TV numbers were better, and that the schools' success would get more press across the board, but on the hardwood things are starting to shape up. The hope is that everything else will fall into place over the next couple of seasons.
InsidetheDawgPound: Since the last meeting between these two programs in late December, a 67-55 victory for Villanova, can you give us a status update on how the team has been playing and the strengths of the squad?
Brian: Villanova has had some ups and downs since then, obviously, with losses to Seton Hall and (an ugly one) to Georgetown on the road. Those seemed to be more abberations than anything else, however, with the defense seeming to struggle in a couple of games as guys dealt with the meat-grinder of a much-improved league. Generally, the 'Cats have played well on both sides of the ball. Probably the biggest development recently has been from Ryan Arcidiacono, who has started to emerge again after slumping on scoring earlier in the season -- he's been much more consistent in the last few weeks.
InsidetheDawgPound: Despite a 22-2 record, including 9-2 in the Big East, do you think that Villanova has been an “under the radar” team nationally? If so, why?
Brian: They've been a little bit under-the-radar this season. There has been a little bit of love from the print and internet media, but it hasn't felt as strong as a lot of people likely were hoping for. That is probably a product of the talking heads expending most of their energy on the top couple of teams -- UK, Virginia, Duke, etc -- as well as the television networks focusing on the teams that they own the rights to. Fox Sports 1 has been great to Villanova this season, however, and I think the coaching staff and team generally likes to fly under the radar.
InsidetheDawgPound: Looking at the matchup between each starter, the bench, and coaching, Where do you see the advantage for each matchup?
Brian: Both teams have a pretty strong backcourt, but where I can see Villanova having the biggest advantage is with a guy like Daniel Ochefu, who has at-times been a very dynamic presence for the 'Cats down low. Even when he isn't scoring a ton of points himself, he demands attention in a way that creates openings for the perimeter players to find a better shot.
InsidetheDawgPound: What player for Villanova is the key for the Wildcats to come out of Hinkle Fieldhouse victorious on Saturday night?
Brian: Definitely Ochefu -- especially on the road with unfamiliar rims and a hostile crowd, the importance of getting Ochefu involved will have a lot to say about how easy it is for the 'Cats to win. His presence on the boards as well is vital to limiting Butler's possessions and extending Villanova's.
Brian: I'm not allowed to make predictions by our readers. I will say that this is definitely one of the scarier games on the schedule for the Wildcats. They have definitely been worse on the road than at home and Butler has seemingly only been getting better since New Years. I think Villanova should be competitive in this game, but I wouldn't pick it to be a breeze.