Saturday, Dec. 30 at Hinkle Fieldhouse 4 PM ET
The best team in the country travels to Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on the Butler Bulldogs. Last year, the Wildcats were also ranked #1 when they were upset by Butler in Indianapolis. Can the Dawgs do it again?
Villanova has cruised through this season so far and currently stand undefeated at 13-0. The first test for Nova resulted in a big win against then #12 Gonzaga in early December. They demolished DePaul on Dec. 27 for their first conference win, and have not played in a really close game all season.
Junior guards Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson lead the team in scoring, each averaging 17 points per game. Brunson runs the point and is the perfect example of an efficient offensive player, shooting 60% from the field (4th in the conference), and averaging five assists per game. Bridges is an efficient scorer and lock down defender, shooting 46% from three, and averaging two steals per game.
On the interior for Villanova is highly recruited freshman Omari Spellman. Leading the team with eight rebounds per game, Spellman is a physical force on the interior but can also stretch the defence with his 51% three point percentage.
After a great tournament performance last year, now sophomore, Donte DiVincenzo has played great this season, averaging 12 points per game, four rebounds and three assists. He seems to be the do it all utility man for the Wildcats and is just one more player that can step up and take over a game.
Butler is coming off of an amazing 2OT victory against Georgetown where sophomore Kamar Baldwin poured in a career high 31 points and senior forward Kelan Martin dropped in 27 of his own (including the game winner) to complete the 20 point comeback.
Butler shot an atrocious 14% from deep in the game, a number that will have to improve if they want t stand a chance against Villanova, but with a now healthy Sean McDermott returning to the roster, Butler has one more threat from deep that hopefully will be of some help in that department.
In short, Villanova is the best team in the country. They are averaging 88 points per game on 42% three point shooting and 50% shooting from the field. Butler’s offense and defense will have to be at their very best if they want to defend their home court against Villanova.
Players to watch-
Jalen Brunson is one of the best players in the country and can really pick a defense apart. He can score by twisting through the paint to get to the rim or shooting from deep. But if the Bulldogs attempt to neutralize him as an offensive threat, he has the passing ability and the basketball IQ to let his teammates take over the game. It will be interesting to see how Coach Jordan and the Dawgs decide to play against a truly gifted player.
Mikal Bridges has been fantastic this year for Villanova. He scored an amazing 28 points against #12 Gonzaga earlier this season and has eclipsed the 20 point marker six times through 13 games. He will also be important on the defensive end, probably matching up against Kelan Martin on both ends.
Kamar Baldwin had been having a quiet season until his career performance against Georgetown. His defense will be invaluable for Butler whether he is guarding Brunson, DiVincenzo or junior guard Phil Booth. He will be instrumental in running the break for the Bulldogs as well, and is often times the spark that gets Butler’s offense going.
Kelan Martin is coming off of three straight 20 point efforts. While his three point shooting has been rough this season, all other aspects of his game have improved during his senior campaign. Martin should be on his best in this game after helping to carry Butler to their first conference victory of the season earlier this week.
Photo credit: Indy Star