(11) Villanova (11-1) at Butler (10-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, December 31, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Hinkle Fieldhouse (9,993) -- Indianapolis, Indiana. Television: FS1. Home Record: Villanova 7-0, Butler 6-0. Away Record: Villanova 1-1, Butler 2-0. Neutral Record: Villanova 3-0, Butler 2-2. Conference Record: Villanova 0-0, Butler 0-0. Series Record: Villanova leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Coming off their first loss of the season, the 11th-ranked Villanova Wildcats will play their first conference game as a member of the new-look Big East against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Wildcats met up with a rival from the old Big East this past Saturday, but couldn't hang with No. 2 Syracuse, which defeated them, 78-62, in the Carrier Dome. The setback ended an 11-game win streak to start the season for Villanova, which returns home to host Providence on Sunday.
Butler has a bit more momentum coming into the league schedule, with wins in five straight games following a 66-48 defeat of NJIT on Saturday. That game was also played at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the Bulldogs are a perfect 6-0 on the season, helping them to an overall mark of 10-2. Butler travels to face Xavier in its next outing.
These teams will certainly be getting more familiar with one another as the new league moves forward, but prior to this year there had only been one meeting between them. The Wildcats came out on top, 62-54, in that matching during the 1996-97 season.
The Wildcats opened their test with Syracuse on a 25-7 run but never managed to recapture the magic. In fact, they let up a 20-0 burst from the Orange to cough up the lead, one they would never recapture, managing to get within five points just once in the second half.
James Bell nailed six shots from beyond the arc and finished with 25 points in the losing effort. Bell (16.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) has been the top scorer for a team that nets 80.8 ppg and shoots at a 44.4 percent clip from the field. He also leads the team in rebounding, which is no small task considering the Wildcats are 24th nationally on the glass (40.8 pg). JayVaughn Pinkston (15.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) contributes solid numbers in both scoring and rebounding as well, while Darrun Hilliard (13.6 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Ryan Arcidiacono (9.0 ppg, 3.1 apg) fill out the backcourt.
The Bulldogs were merciless on defense against NJIT, limiting the Highlanders to just 30 percent shooting. Butler hit 49 percent from the floor itself, although it did struggle from beyond the arc (3-of-13). Khyle Marshall ended up with 21 points, despite missing 6-of-11 from the free-throw line.
Butler has the defensive ability to slow down a team like Villanova. The Bulldogs are holding foes to 62.5 ppg this season and just 41.6 percent shooting. They are solid, though not as prolific as the Wildcats, offensively, netting 75.3 ppg and hitting over 45 percent of their field goal attempts. Kellen Dunham (18.1 ppg) and Marshall (17 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are a pair of potent scorers that do most of the heavy lifting for the Bulldogs at the offensive end. Dunham had a bit of an off night against NJIT, with nine points on a 3- of-9 shooting performance. Kameron Woods (9.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg) rarely has to carry the offense, but his work on the glass is extremely valuable.
The Wildcats need to recover quickly from their loss to Syracuse. Butler is a stout team, that plays well at both ends of the floor. If the Bulldogs can force the sometimes erratic Wildcats to rely on perimeter shooting, they may be able to steal a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Butler 74, Villanova 72
12/31 10:37:27 ET