In fact, Butler may look a bit like the team that Northwestern plays in practice every day.First off, look at the numbers. NU and Butler aren't far off in some of the tell-tale Wildcats statistics -- which, it turns out, are tell-tale Bulldog statistics. The Cats, of course, rely on quality shooting from the floor. They are among the lowest-ranked teams in the nation in possessions per game, so it is paramount that the possessions they do have are fruitful.
Well, Butler is much the same.Last season, Northwestern averaged 50.6 field goal attempts per game; Butler averaged 50.3. So that's spot-on. Also, the Cats had an average of 60.5 possessions per game (No. 336 in the nation), while the Bulldogs had 63 (No. 312). So these teams don't have that many possessions.
And the ones they do are treated with care.With their likeness in pace -- both teams could definitely be described as "methodical" -- Butler was good for 22.0 field goals per game, NU 22.5. And those numbers are directly related to points per possession, where the Dogs and Cats were down-to-the-hundredth close: NU got 1.05 points per possession, Butler got 1.08.
These teams were similar from downtown as well. Butler was good for 8.0 three-pointers per game last season, and NU netted 8.2. The only differences are that Butler shot 1.5 more -- 22.8 to 21.3 -- and hit a slightly lower percentage -- 35.2 to NU's 38.6. For teams that average between 63-68 points per game, like these two did last seaso, hitting eight threes per outing means that something like 35-39 percent of the points come from beyond the arc. Not to mention more than one-third of these teams' possessions -- not just shots, but possessions -- results in three-point attempts. So the three-ball is paramount.Really, quality shooting in general is paramount. The raw field goal percentage numbers were 44.5 percent for NU, 43.8 for Butler. And the effective field goal percentage -- which accounts for the added value of three-pointers -- was 52.6 for NU, while Butler's was 51.8, both in the top 75 in the country. True shooting percentage -- which accounts for three-pointers and free throws -- was similarly close: 55.0 percent for the Cats, 55.9 for the Dogs.
What else do the stats say...each team had five 19-plus-point wins last season, and each had 11 six-points-or-less games as well. So statistically, these teams look pretty darn similar.But it transcends the box scores. Look also at the geography of the hometowns of the teams' players. Northwestern boasts four starters -- John Shurna, Michael Thompson, Drew Crawford and Jeremy Nash -- who hail from Illinois. The other starter is currently Luka Mirkovic, from Belgrade, and may eventually be Kyle Rowley, who is also from out-of-country. But still: four of five starters are backyard products.
The Bulldogs have a similarly homegrown feel. Butler, which is in Indianapolis, was led in scoring last season by Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard, who are both back this year as well, and both from Indiana. Now, Butler's roster is a little more nationwide. There are also key contributors from Kentucky -- like last season's leading assist man Shelvin Mack -- and Alabama -- like No. 2 assister Ronald Nored. Still, Indiana reigns supreme in the "Hometown" column on the roster: 10 of 15 players are from the state.
As has been said here before, this is an interesting game for the the Cats. It will provide a real test for just how well the team can cope (at the moment, at least) without Kevin Coble, as well as how far the sophomores have come since last season, how Crawford will show against a bona-fide tourney team, etc.A loss -- even a big loss -- would be nothing to get worked up about. But the Cats and Dogs matchup is nonetheless and intriguing one, if for no other reason than the two teams are so similar.