Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Tyler Lewis SR (5-11, 170)
Lewis is a small distributor that is capable of knocking down some threes. He's averaging 7.4 points (53.4% FG, 41.9% 3PT) and 4.3 assists in 23.5 minutes per game. After starting the season strong, his play has tailed off a bit recently. He hasn't scored in double figures since the loss at Indiana State on December 7. His assists numbers are also way down in conference play. He does do a good job of making plays off of ball-screens, which typically gives Xavier trouble. His season low for minutes played is 17, which came against Villanova 10 days ago. I could see him playing fewer than that in this game. Defensively, there just isn't a good matchup for him. Expect the Bulldogs to start him out on Macura so they can put Kamar Baldwin on Sumner. Sumner didn't play in the first game against Butler last year, but he was a problem at Hinkle for the Bulldogs. He was getting into the lane constantly and causing their defense to scramble. The Musketeers need him to step up in a big road game and provide a mismatch in this one. He's averaging 15.3 points (48.2% FG, 27.8% 3PT), 4.8 assists, and 4.5 rebounds in 33.8 minutes per game.
Moderate Edge Xavier
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Kamar Baldwin FR (6-0, 170)
Baldwin plays bigger than his listed size because of his length and athleticism. He's an excellent defender and a promising scorer that excels in transition. He's averaging 8.5 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from 3-point range on 31 attempts. He uses his quickness to get downhill and into the lane after using ball-screens, and he's a consistent but selective spot-up shooter. Defensively, he gives the Bulldogs a much better chance of keeping Sumner out of the lane this year, assuming he draws that matchup. Macura was 5-of-8 from the floor last year at Hinkle with 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, and one memorable dunk. The lovefest between him and Butler fans should be palpable during this game. It seems this would be an all-or-nothing performance from him. Either the atmosphere fires him up and he goes off and lets everyone in Indianapolis know about it… or, he presses too much, can't find his stroke, and forces some bad shots. Without a doubt, his play is the number one storyline going into this game. He's averaging 14.4 points (41.3% FG, 33.3% 3PT), 4.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.9 steals in 32.3 minutes per game.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Kelan Martin JR (6-7, 220)
Martin is a big-bodied bucket-getter that can score at all three levels. He's averaging 16.8 points (40.5% FG, 35.3% 3PT) and 5.5 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game. He gets his points in a lot of different ways. He's a really good spot-up shooter, but he's also a strong driver coming off of ball-screens or in isolation situations. Plus, he has a great mid-range game. He played pretty well against Xavier at the Cintas Center last year in a 17-point loss but he struggled in the first game at Hinkle. Bernard would seem like a pretty good defensive matchup for Martin if that's the route the Musketeers decide to go. Bernard is 7-for-15 from beyond the arc over the last five games. He's averaging 5.9 points (40.7% FG, 40% 3PT) and 4.0 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game.
Moderate Edge Butler
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Andrew Chrabascz SR (6-7, 230)
Chrabascz is an incredibly unique player. He's a face-up forward with a great skill-set that also likes to bang on the block and play with his back to the basket. He's averaging 11.4 points (46.8% FG, 45.7% 3PT), 5.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 32.2 minutes per game. Aside from Lewis, the Bulldogs don't have any other perimeter players who are great at creating shots for their teammates, so Chrabascz picks up some of the slack as a playmaker and distributor within their offense. That's why Creighton made it a point to shut him off from Butler's offense as much as possible on Wednesday, and it paid off as he went 1-for-5 from the field with two points and three rebounds in 27 minutes in a 75-64 loss. Bluiett struggled in his first two games back in his hometown. He's a combined 2-for-11 from 3-point range at Hinkle in those games with a total of 24 points. He's also had a rough first two road games to open Big East play, going a combined 2-for-20 from the field and 2-for-15 from 3-point range at Georgetown and Villanova.
Slight Edge Xavier
RaShid Gaston SR (6-9, 239) vs Tyler Wideman JR (6-8, 240)
Wideman is a tough, below-the-rim center that rebounds and defends well for the Bulldogs. He's averaging 8.4 points (65.9% FG) and 5.2 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game. His numbers are very similar to last year but he's been featured more in the offense this season. Last year, most of his production came on garbage points, but this season over 30 percent of his possessions have come on post-ups where's he's averaging over 1.02 points per possession. Gaston was on a roll for a handful of games but his level of play has decreased over the last two. He was 3-for-6 from the field with six points, six boards, and four turnovers combined against St. John's and Villanova. He's averaging 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 18.7 minutes.
Xavier Bench vs Butler Bench
Memphis grad-transfer Avery Woodson (6-2, 190) is Butler's most dangerous shooter. He's averaging 8.6 points in 20.1 minutes per game while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from deep. Eighty-two of his 117 field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. He played well in the loss at Creighton, knocking down 4-of-8 from distance to finish with 14 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes of action. Senior Kethan Savage (6-3, 205) is another athletic guard that provides some defense and ballhandling for the Bulldogs. He comes off of ball-screens and does a good job of using his body and athleticism to finish or draw contact. He's averaging 5.4 points (40.7% FG, 33.3% 3PT), 1.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 15.5 minutes per game. Freshman Sean McDermott (6-6, 190) is mostly a spot-up shooter right now on offense, but he has some athleticism too. He's taken 32 of his 41 field goal attempts from 3-point range and is averaging 3.1 points (41.5% FG, 37.5% 3PT) and 1.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game. Sophomore center Nate Fowler (6-10, 240) is a big body that rebounds well on the offensive end, finishes around the rim, and is capable of stepping out and hitting a 3-pointer. He's 6-for-9 from deep on the year and is averaging 5.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game. For Xavier, Sean O'Mara has picked up his level since conference games started. He had six points (3-3 FG) and six boards in 13 minutes at Villanova on Tuesday. Look for him to get a few more minutes in this one as Butler's bigs are more similar to him in terms of body type, which should make him feel more comfortable. Myles Davis' impact will again be an interesting, though likely insignificant, storyline for this game. He played 13 minutes against Villanova and went 0-for-5 from the field, including 0-for-4 from deep with one rebound and one turnover.
Butler is ranked 16th in the country by KenPom.com, 19th in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency. Xavier is ranked 25th overall, 33rd in offensive efficiency and 34th in defensive efficiency. The Biggest difference between last year's Butler team and this year's team is the improvement on defense. However, in all three of the Bulldogs' losses - at Indiana State, at St. John's, and at Creighton - it was their defense that failed them. Opponents have proven that there are matchups that give them major issues, particularly guards that can get into the lane (Shamorie Ponds, Mo Watson, and Brenton Scott). It will be interesting to see how they do against Sumner. Xavier should be able to gain an advantage on the glass. The Bulldogs are weak on the boards at both ends. When Xavier is on defense, watch out for the 1-3-1 zone. They used that for long stretches last year in this matchup. Butler is certainly good enough to beat Xavier, and, with the game being at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the smart money is probably on the Bulldogs. However, I'm going to need to see it happen with the current systems and personnel in place at both schools before I believe it after what we saw last year between these teams.
Predicted score: Xavier 75 Butler 71