The Xavier Musketeers travel to meet the Butler Bulldogs for tonights college basketball matchup. See what the sportsbook odds makers are offering us as we decide how we are going to play our NCAA Basketball picks tonight.
It’s not often that we see a televised matchup this time of year pitting two teams that are both from outside the Big 6 conferences. Generally, at least one team — if not both — hails from the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC or Pac-12.
But ESPN is giving viewers and NCAA Basketball bettors an opportunity for just that on Wednesday when the Xavier Musketeers travel to meet the Butler Bulldogs. Tip from Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will come a bit past 9 PM (ET) in this A-10, Horizon League duel, and the NCAA basketball odds have the Musketeers laying 5.5 with a 126 point total. Which way should you look when it comes to making your college basketball picks?
Before we give ESPN too much credit for showing this matchup, let’s not forget two big reasons why it’s prime-time material to begin with. Final exams are either taking place or about to on college campuses, and athletic programs in season are in a bit of a slumber. If not for finals, the first of about 60 bowl games would be on the boob tube about now.
Secondly, let’s not forget that one of these ‘little guys’ has become more of a household name with appearances in each of the last two NCAA Tournament Finals. People who had never heard of even the Horizon League two short years ago now know who the Butler Bulldogs are. Some might even know the coach’s name.
To his credit, and much to Butler’s delight, Brad Stevens is still the coach through what should be a tough rebuilding season. Stevens could have easily bolted after this season, with several Big 6 openings in places like Maryland, Missouri, Texas A&M, Miami,North Carolina State and Tennessee. But he didn’t.
The Bulldogs saw the season get off on the wrong note with an overtime loss on the road to Evansville, and are coming off another OT defeat at home last Saturday to conference rivalValparaiso that dropped Butler to 4-4. Stevens’ squad also isn’t making any friends among bettors, failing to cover the college basketball betting spread in any of the five lined contests.
Losing three of the top 4 scorers off last season’s team is the first thing many will point to asButler’s biggest problems. And, yes, the offensive numbers aren’t too appealing as well as down a bit from the previous two squads. But let’s face it, putting up points was not what got the Bulldogs into each of the last two finals.
Lifting that field goal mark that is currently below 41% and sinking a higher percentage of free throws are improvements that have to be made. But the real road back to winning games will come on the defensive end. Butler is allowing 63.5 points per game, good enough to rank just inside the top half of the country, but a deeper look into that number reveals about a 10-point jump in opponents’ scoring when the Bulldogs haven’t been playing the likes of UT-Chattanooga, Savannah State and Oakland City.
The good news is Butler won’t exactly be taking on an offensive juggernaut in Xavier, though the Musketeers certainly have solid weapons to pop the net. Solid guards in senior Tu Holloway (18.0 PPG) and junior Mark Lyons (17.3 PPG) team up with 7-footer Kenny Frease (9.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG) to give XU a formidable trio. Holloway also leads the team in assists (5.0) and has combined withLyons to form a very accurate duo from long range (18 for 38, 47%).
Like Stevens at Butler, defense and glass work is stressed in Chris Mack’s scheme at Xavier. So far, the Musketeers have done the better job at both. Teams have yet to shoot 43% or better against Xavier, and a true team effort has the Musketeers among the nation’s best at pulling down rebounds.
Holloway will get all of the attention in this game, and for good reason. He’s coming off a pair of games in which he caught fire late to rally Xavier past good Vanderbilt and Purdue teams. He could be on the verge of lifting this team on his shoulders, a la Kemba Walker at UConn a year ago, and carrying the Musketeers deep into March. Or he could revert to inconsistent ways.
The battle down low between Frease of XU and Butler’s Andrew Smith could ultimately decide the contest, but the best part of the show might be turned in by getting glimpses at a couple of talented freshmen on each side.
XU’s Dezmine Wells may wind up being a big talent that got away from Tobacco Road. The 6-5 guard has been getting plenty of court time and will be eager to make up for his big zero performance in the win over Purdue. Andy Smeathers has just started to get his feet wet forButler the last two games, and could be well overmatched against a more experienced Xavier…or simply catch fire from three point land as he has shown along his young hoops career.
Taking a Chance: Even with the talent advantage, this is a tough call on Xavier. The Musketeers are on the road in a very real letdown spot and playing a gritty Butler team that hasn’t lost consecutive games at Hinkle since February 2007. Still, I’m going to bite on the chalk and make Xavier +5.5 my pick, Musketeers win it 70-60.