With an 11-6 league record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament locked up, a second place Big East finish is what motivates Providence at this point and beating Butler will clinch that for the Friars. Here’s a peek at what our Fearless Forecasters think:
Chris Holtmann has done a great job with Butler. Picked 7th in the Big East in the preseason poll, the Bulldogs have exceeded all expectations and proven that they belong in this conference. They certainly have proven to be a tough matchup for anyone who crosses their path and that’s due to a tough defense that keeps them in games and the ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots. Remember the earlier matchup at Hinkle? Butler was on the verge of running Providence out of the gym in the first half and only a bizarre, defense-minded second half lineup saved the Friars’ bacon. That alone should be proof enough that this won’t be an easy game. Both teams have their eyes set on finishing in second place and both teams are nationally ranked. Kellen Dunham, Kameron Woods and Roosevelt Jones are all players who can hit shots and get hot at any time, which should test PC’s defense. Butler also has Andrew Chrasbascz back and that helps inside. For Providence, this is a protect your home court game and Senior Day. Close to a sold out crowd is expected to honor LaDontae Henton, Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris. The good news for PC is that Desrosiers appears to be back, which helps both offensively and defensively. Emotions on Senior Day, playing in front of family and friends, in some cases for the first time, can run high and can work for you or against you. That will be something to keep an eye on as PC can’t afford another bad start. That said, it’s hard to imagine Providence letting this opportunity slip through their fingers at home and if anyone can control his emotions, it’s Henton, who along with Kris Dunn, must impose their will.
Prediction: Providence 73 Butler 64
Basketball is about matchups. Sometimes you don’t matchup well with a team. Sometimes you do. The Butler Bulldogs are a rock solid team that’s had a great season. They are smarting coming off a home loss to Georgetown and have a lot to play for against Providence this Saturday. However, this is spot you have to like the Friars. Providence has matched up well with Butler going back to last year. The Friars have more size, and more overall athleticism. Providence can get their shots, and should be able to rebound the ball well enough against the Bulldogs.
Providence pulled out a win at Butler earlier this season largely on a stout second half defense. Now with the return game at the Dunkin Donuts Center on LaDontae Henton’s Senior Night, you have think the Friars will come to play. With Ben Bentil coming into his own late in season (21pts vs SHU) Providence is finally identifying a legitimate 3rd scorer in the starting lineup to bolster the two-man game of Kris Dunn and Henton. It will by no means be easy because Butler doesn’t beat themselves. Kellen Dunham is star in this league, and Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods are both capable of having big games. However, the pace of play, stakes, home crowd, and the fact that Butler power forward Andrew Chrasbascz is still not fully recovered from a significant hand injury overall gives the Friars an edge. This one is for the Big East 2 Seed and Ed Cooley will have his team ready. The Friars close out the regular season with a big win.
Prediction: Providence 70 Butler 63
Butler has been a surprise team this season and not just in the Big East. The job Chris Holtmann has done should garner him some discussion for National Coach of the Year. The Bulldogs were picked 7th in the preseason Big East poll and could finish as high as 2nd with a win against the Friars and a loss by Georgetown on Saturday. Kellen Dunham is their leading scorer but during all the Butler games I've watched this season I come away with the impression that Dunham is a true "chucker", what some might call a "volume shooter". Dunham's 3-point percentage is way up this season at 42.3%, which is 3rd in the Big East. He has also gotten to the line 17 times more than all of last season and is shooting an impressive 86.1% from the line. That's also good for 3rd in the league. Dunham may be the leading scorer but the argument can be made that Roosevelt Jones is Butler's most valuable player. Jones' numbers are spectacular but if you watch a Butler game you would be hard-pressed to not see Jones making a huge play on offense or defense. Sophomore big man Andrew Chrabascz returned to the lineup a game ago after missing 4 games due to a broken hand suffered against Villanova on February 14th. The plan was to bring Chrabascz back somewhat slowly against Georgetown but Holtmann ended up playing him 31 minutes against the Hoyas in the loss on Tuesday night.
I expect the Dunkin' Donuts Center to be packed with the Senior Day festivities scheduled to kick-off at 11:30am. Emotions will be running high for the players and coaches as Carson Desrosiers, Tyler Harris and LaDontae Henton bring their families out on the court as they are honored for their accomplishments at Providence College. Butler has been the road warriors this season with 5 of their 11 Big East wins coming away from Hinkle Fieldhouse. It's hard for me to see the Friars losing this game. Henton's senior day combined with the 2 seed being in their control with a win makes me believe Ed Cooley will be preaching a sense of urgency to his players. The Friars can't afford to start as slow as they did against Seton Hall on Wednesday as Butler is a much better and more disciplined team but I expect Kris Dunn to keep playing like he did in the second half of Wednesday's win in Newark.
Prediction: Providence 71 Butler 68
Butler rates out as the third best offensive and third best defensive team in the Big East. The Bulldogs' +7 efficiency margin in conference is good enough to rank them third, again, in the league ahead of the Friars. Despite all that, PC fans don't seem all that worried about this Butler team. Perhaps it's in part because the Friars won at Butler despite not playing well and putting out a second-half lineup we probably haven't seen since. Perhaps it's because Butler is so thin -- only 13 teams in the nation have used their benches less than Chris Holtmann has. Mostly, though, PC fans probably don't look at Butler and see a team to fear. The Friars have beaten the Bulldogs all three times they've face each other in Big East play and they lack the overall athletic package to intimidate. What may surprise some fans is that Butler wins by hurting the opposition both the offensive and defensive glass. This is not the slick ball-movement, 3-point-shooting team that we might associate with Butler squads of the past. No Big East teams gets assists on fewer of its made field goals or takes fewer of their shots from behind the arc. All this is to say that this is an unorthodox and very good Butler team that will give Providence problems if it can get shots to fall. Butler has an effective field-goal percentage of 51.2 in Big East wins and just 42.6 in losses, and the Bulldogs haven't beaten a good team without averaging at least a point per field-goal attempt. I think the Friars defense will force just enough missed shots to eek out a Senior Day win.
Prediction: Providence 70 Butler 66
And just like that, Senior Night is here in Providence. First and foremost, congrats to LaDontae (Buckets2K) Henton on a career milestone. LaDontae also scored 2,000 points and grabbed 1,000 rebounds in high school, how crazy is that? Also a congratulations is in order for my man, God Shammgod, who will be honored on Senior Night after finishing his necessary school work to earn his degree. I’m still in awe on how well the Friars played in the second half against Seton Hall, what a finish that was. And now we’re onto Butler. Who would have thought the last game of the season vs. Butler would mean so much? Not me, to be honest. With a win against the Bulldogs, the Friars would be locked into the 2 seed for the Big East Tournament, avoiding Villanova. Let me rephrase that, WHEN the Friars win Saturday afternoon against the Bulldogs, Providence will be the #2 seed in the Big East Tournament. Providence won a hard fought battle at Butler a couple months back, when Ed Cooley decided to stick with an unthinkable 5 man lineup that ended up giving its all, and ultimately winning the game at Hinkle. With Rhode Island native Andrew Chrabascz back from an injury for Butler, he’ll help Butler spread the floor with his ability to hit an outside shot. With the way Paschal Chukwu has been playing, alongside a healthy Carson Desrosiers, Providence’s frontcourt should control the offensive and defensive side of the glass with no problem. With the defense of Kris Dunn and Junior Lomomba at the top of the tenacious zone, they should be able to contain Butler’s 3 point shooting. Containing Kellen Dunham is obviously a priority for the Friars, as I know Ed Cooley will stress to his players to continue to be physical with the All Big East guard. Kris Dunn will continue to improve and control this game from start to finish. As Ed Cooley said before, “As Kris and LaDontae go, we go.” And finally, enter LaDonate Henton. It will be the senior’s last game at The Dunk, which will be filled with emotions. His family will travel from Michigan to be at The Dunk for the first time in his career, watching him finish off an unbelievable tenure at Providence. The next time his family will be at The Dunk will likely be when his jersey gets honored in the rafters one day. You can’t say enough about the “junkyard dog”, as he was the first recruit Ed Cooley brought to Providence. Friartown has seen his growth as a basketball player on the court and his growth off the court as well. From dealing with adversity as a young kid, not being recruited by a high major school, and not being selected as a 1st team All Big East player in the preseason, LaDontae ‘Buckets’ Henton, has come a long, long way. I expect Buckets to have a great game against Butler, in front of his family and friends for the first and last time in Friartown.
Prediction: Providence 78 Butler 64
Butler is strange to me. They beat top tier teams, are ranked, and definitely on their way to the NCAAs... but we beat them with our B squad in Hinkle two months ago. And that came after being down at the half by seven. That was then though, and this time around I expect both the Bulldogs and the Friars to come much more prepared. Butler will be vying for that stronger seeding in the Big East, and Providence is on their way to capturing a two seed. Don't be surprised if this one gets scrappy, but I'm certainly expecting it will. My two areas of focus are (surprise, surprise) limiting threes and grabbing the glass. Kellen Dunham is third in the Big East with his three point field goal percentage (42.3%), and Alex Barlow isn't far behind (39.2%). Shut them down and don't let anyone else have an easy time getting a three point shot up while you're at it. Don't let them take advantage on the glass either - Kameron Woods is second in the Big East in boards per game (9.6) and Roosevelt Jones is 15th with 5.6. Providence has more players in the top 30 for rebounds than Butler (five compared to three) so it will be a team effort on the glass - nobody can have an off night on the boards. Take good shots too because Butler's defense can be smothering (they're 45th in the country for points allowed per game, with opponents averaging 60.9 against the Bulldogs). But, if Providence plays the game they've been playing lately, there's no reason to think they won't win this game. It'll be a nail biter, but the Friars nab this one.
Prediction: Providence 68 Butler 61
FEARLESS FORECAST: BUTLER
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