Philip Tor | Slump Sports Blogger
The late season push by the Bulldogs placed them in a tie for fourth place in the Big East, knotted up with the Providence Friars. The two teams will face off in the second round of the tournament with Providence owning the 4 seed because of the tiebreaker (2-0 vs Butler). Providence won both meeting against Butler in the regular season, defeating the Dawgs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on New Year’s Eve in the Big East opener 81-73, and 71-68 in a January 19th battle at the Dunk in Providence.
The clash will take place on Thursday March 10th at Madison Square Garden at 2:30 PM, the second game of the day. The Bulldogs seem to have the upper hand in the matchup due to the Friars poor play recently. The Providence offense has cooled off as of late due to multiple factors including injuries and illness to Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, 2 of the top scorers in the Big East. Providence comes into the tournament losing 5 of their last 9 conference games.
The Bulldogs biggest test will be keeping the Friar’s scorers at bay by pressuring them defensively. Those scorers not only include superstars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but role players such as sharpshooter Rodney Bullock, and shifty guard Kyron Cartwright. Bullock registered a season-high 25 points, including 6 three’s, against Butler in their first meeting of the season.
Providence is known for using their quickness and defensive toughness to wear opponents down and capitalize late in games. A key for Butler will be to take care of the basketball and limit the turnovers to eliminate Providence’s strength in the transition game. Butler averages the fewest turnovers in the conference with an 10.2 turnovers per game. On the contrary Providence forces the most turnovers in the conference, with opponents averaging 14.8 turnovers per game. Butler is second in the Big East in turnover margin with their +3.1 rating only behind Providence’s +3.2.
The Bulldog offense has fluctuated all season, at some points looking like a juggernaut when you pair the aggressive play of Roosevelt Jones, the mid-range game of Kelan Martin, and the 3-point shooting of Kellen Dunham. At other points it looked as if Butler was lost (mainly the stretch where Kellen Dunham went 4 straight games without hitting a three). Despite the troubles Butler’s offense ranked 1st in the Big East with 81.3 ppg, and the dawgs are rolling into Madison Square Garden with a 3 game winning streak and winners of 8 of their past 11.
This tournament could prove to be big in regards to Butler’s NCAA tournament ranking. Currently the Bulldogs are listed as a 4 seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, and could move up with a quality win over Providence. With a win Butler could avoid the play-in game and pretty much lock up a bid to the big dance.
Providence has fallen fast in the college basketball rankings and currently is listed as an 11 seed in the same Lunardi bracket. Another win against Butler and a possible run to the Big East tournament finals could propel Providence to a 7 or even a 6 seed when the field of 68 is announced this Sunday.
Butler is 1-5 all-time against the friars and 4-8 when playing at Madison Square Garden. Butler is also looking to capture their first Big East tournament victory, as they have fallen in their first two games as members of the Big East. In 2013 they lost as a 9 seed to 8 seed Seton Hall, and in 2014 they entered as a 3 seed and fell to 6 seed Xavier in overtime.
This will be the final Big East tournament for Butler seniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones who have seen the program go from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 and finally the Big East. Dunham scored 17 points in last years tournament game, and is averaging over 17 ppg in his career vs the Friars. Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin also averaged 17.5 ppg this season vs the Friars
A stat to think about could be the presence of Junior forward Andrew Chrabascz who is a critical defender and scorer in the post. When Chrabascz scores in the double digits (10+) the Dawgs hold a record of 15-2. In both losses to Providence, Chrabascz scored only 4 and 6 points while dealing with foul trouble. If Chrabascz can get in a rhythm on the offensive end and contribute to the Butler offense, it could cause matchup problems for the Friars.
Two players to watch for are Butler’s Tyler Wideman, and Austin Etherington. Wideman serves as the big man and main rebounder for the Bulldogs. Wideman has also displayed a unique set of defensive characteristics this year showing off his shot-blocking ability as well as quickness in creating turnovers and getting steals. Wideman will most likely be matched up against Ben Bentil who can stretch the floor with his own quickness and 3 point shooting ability.
Etherington is usually the first person off the bench for Butler because he can fill pretty much any role on the floor. His 3 point shooting ability can help open up the middle of the floor for Jones and Wideman, and he can also help on the glass with rebounding. Etherington will be matched up with an abundance of Friar players and we will see how he adapts to the versatility of Providence.
This is Butler’s first test as they move toward the NCAA tournament. This matchup could result in a huge momentum swing for the Bulldogs. If they win, they add another key win to their resume, but if they fall to Providence once again it could seriously damage their postseason status.
The winner of this contest will move onto the semifinal round on Friday, where they will meet the winner of #1 Villanova and #8 Georgetown/#9 DePaul.