Dee Davis made a statement with his play on Friday, scoring 22 points while dishing out 15 assists. The performance was good enough to land him A-10 Player of the Week honors. He will face a stiffer test today against a Butler team that has been historically tough on the defensive end under Brad Stevens. Davis should be fine in his personal matchup against Clarke though. He's quicker and should be able to pressure him some on the defensive end. He'll have to make sure he gets a hand in the sharpshooter's face. Clarke made a good first impression at Butler, scoring 21 to lead the team in the season-opener against Elon. He finished 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Slight Edge Butler
Justin Martin So (6-6, 205) vs Chase Stigall Sr (6-3, 196)
Justin Martin is listed as the probable starter, though I'm still expecting Semaj Christon to play in the game. Martin gave the Musketeers exactly the type of performance they need out of him on Friday. Granted they didn't actually need it against Fairleigh Dickinson, but if Martin can provide double-digit scoring while also getting six rebounds and six assists then he'll play 25-minutes plus a game. Against Butler his extra length at the guard position could be a positive against a Bulldog backcourt that can really shoot. Stigall starts, but he's not really Stevens' starter. Freshman Kellen Dunham will play more starter-like minutes, despite the upperclassman starting the game on the court. Either way each player is out there to spot up and knock down shots, and neither is great defensively. This could play out as a key matchup.
Jeff Robinson has played well to this point and has shown some promising signs, even if his stats in the Kentucky State exhibition and Fairleigh Dickinson game were skewed. Glimpses of him driving to the rim and trying to dunk with an open lane and also knocking down open jump shots with confidence against FDU provides hope that he may be willing to expand his role a little bit this year. Robinson's most important task against Butler today will be winning the battle of the boards against a wing who can really rebound in Jones. Jones is a stout, widebody with good skills that does a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs. He can handle it, is an excellent passer as he showed against Elon with six assists, a strong defender and a great rebounder on both sides of the court. Robinson has length and athleticism in his favor, and he'll need to use that to combat Jones' motor and strength on the glass.
Travis Taylor had a big game against a completely overmatched FDU team, finishing with 20 points and 12 boards. He also made a few really nice passes, which probably went unnoticed by many, and finished with three assists. He's had trouble against bigger, more normal-sized Division-I opponents in the past though. The Musketeers need him to be more like the 20 and 12 guy they had against FDU than the player they had against Kentucky State. The matchup with Marshall is actually a favorable one for Taylor. Marshall isn't a true post player either, but instead makes plays inside by using his athleticism and quickness. Both of these guys prefer to slash and dunk or find second-chance opportunities as opposed to posting up. Marshall is a very efficient scorer, leading the team in field-goal percentage last year at 55%. This is another tough battle to call that could have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
Slight Edge Butler
Erik Stenger Jr (6-8, 207) vs Andrew Smith Sr (6-11, 243)
Erik Stenger has continued to be exactly who he's been since he arrived at Xavier. He plays extremely hard, knows his limitations and provides athleticism and strength around the rim. So far he has fit in as a perfect role player on a Musketeer team that definitely needed the depth. If he continues to rebound and defend well, he'll continue to play 15 minutes a game. Andrew Smith started last game but played just nine minutes due to foul trouble, before eventually fouling out. He's going to be eager to make an impact, and has to be licking his chops to face the smaller Xavier team. It will be interesting to see how the Musketeers match up with a center that has legitimate size like Smith. Last year he averaged just over 10 points per game and five rebounds.
Slight Edge Butler
Xavier Bench vs Butler Bench
The Musketeers have a depleted roster but we expect Semaj Christon to play and if he plays then the Musketeers have quite a weapon off the bench. James Farr could also play an important role in this one as he gives the Musketeers a little bit more size to combat Smith inside. Farr got some confidence rolling in the FDU game with a step-back 3-pointer and a blocked shot early on. He went on to finish with 14 points and four boards. In addition to those two, Brad Redford should get plenty of time in this one coming off his 6-for-7 3-point performance against FDU where he scored 19 points. Redford matches up well with Butler due to the Bulldogs playing two guards who aren't the most athletic guys in the world, but instead are looking to spot up when they're out there. Butler will counter with sophomore Kameron Woods, who is another athletic combo-forward type like Marshall. Woods came off the bench to score eight points, grab four boards and dish out two assists against Elon, but it was his alley-oop off a lob from Jones that had everyone talking about him after the game. Dunham, as mentioned, will also come off the bench and play a lot of minutes. He is a lights out shooter with good size. Erik Fromm provides some depth inside at 6-8, 223. Finally, sophomore Alex Barlow will provide double-digit minutes in the backcourt, but isn't much of a scorer.
Slight Edge Xavier… If Semaj plays
This game will give us a much better idea of where Xavier stacks up against real competition in the world of college basketball. At this point, I think most are cautiously optimistic that this team is better than anyone expected heading into the year, but there's no way to know for sure until they actually play someone. Butler is expected to compete for an A-10 title this year, and got off to an impressive start with its backcourt leading the way. Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham are two of the top shooters in college basketball, and they do a good job of freeing themselves for open looks. Xavier will have to be tough against dribble-handoffs and other various screening actions that the Bulldogs use and close out with high hands. It will be interesting to see if the Musketeers implement any of their zone defense in this one with a size advantage on the perimeter. Without enough real evidence to judge either team off of, expect this to be another ugly, scrappy Xavier vs Butler game that ends up being low-scoring and close.
Score Prediction: Butler 66 Xavier 61