The Butler Bulldogs (6-2) will host the Utah Utes (6-1) at Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight. Butler is on a 3 game winning streak comprised of 2 tough wins over Portland State and Ohio State and a 30 point rout of Saint Louis. The Saint Louis game was almost undoubtedly Butler’s best performance of the season so far, which bodes well for the Bulldogs’ momentum and confidence going into this game.
Utah, meanwhile, is on a 2 game winning streak. Their only loss up to this point came against UNLV, 85-58. Since then, the Utes have blown out both Eastern Washington and Hawai’i which suggests that they’ll be storming Hinkle Fieldhouse at full force as well. Neither Utah nor Butler have had more than a few particularly tough opponents yet so this game serves as a great opportunity for both teams to reveal more about their true potential.
Utah’s Offense vs. Butler’s Defense
Averaging 79.6 points per game (106th in NCAA D1) and 15.9 assists per game (T-86th in NCAA D1), along with scoring over 80 in each of their last 4 games, the Utah Utes are showing that they are a strong offensive team with a solid emphasis on ball movement. They were even able to outgun Ole Miss (83.7 points per game, 52nd in NCAA D1), which speaks volumes about the Utes’ balanced offense.
However, Utah has yet to face a scoring defense like Butler’s. The Bulldogs have only allowed 65.5 points per game (58th in NCAA D1). They’ve also forced an average of 16.25 turnovers per game (T-61st in NCAA D1) up to this point. Furthermore, Butler boasts a great turnover margin of +4.1 (39th in NCAA D1), which means they generally force many more turnovers than they give up.
Utah’s Defense vs. Butler’s Offense
Utah’s defense, on the other hand, remains mostly untested aside from Ole Miss and UNLV. That being said, the final score of 83-74 from the Ole Miss game suggests that Utah outgunned Ole Miss with offense rather than shut them down with defense. Along with that, the Utes also failed to slow down UNLV (91.8 points per game, 7th in NCAA D1) in any way and lost to them in a blowout. Long story short, the Utah defense has fared rather poorly against good offenses this season. The good news for the Utes is that Butler’s scoring offense isn’t on the same level as Ole Miss and UNLV.
At face value, 71.9 points per game (T-239th in NCAA D1) leaves a lot to be desired from this Butler Bulldogs offense. However, it’s important to note that 71.9 is an average, meaning that it can be skewed significantly by outliers. This is in fact the case with Butler – they only scored 48 points in their loss to Texas. If we ignore that abnormally low score and average Butler’s scores in all of their other games so far, they jump up to about 75.3 points per game, or T-180th just 1 place under IU.
NCAA D1 team rankings by stat are here.
It seems that winning the turnover battle, as they often do, could be a major key for Butler to win this game. Not only would that provide more opportunities for Butler’s relatively mediocre offense (so far) to score, but it would also eliminate opportunities for Utah’s higher-powered offense. This only really makes a great difference if Butler can capitalize on those opportunities though.
Still, Butler’s offense has gotten more accurate lately. Kelan Martin’s great game against Saint Louis brought his FG% up to a more respectable 40.3%. And with Sean McDermott’s absence, Kamar Baldwin and Paul Jorgensen picked up the slack from downtown. Perhaps Butler’s offense will continue to show improvements against Utah.
Butler’s cumulative season stats by player are here.
Finally, some Utes to watch are F David Collette (14.9 ppg., 60.7% FG%, 32 total rebs.), F Donnie Tillman (10.9 ppg., 53.2% FG%, 48 total rebs.), G Justin Bibbins (10.9 ppg., 48.0 FG%, 30 total assists) and G Sedric Barefield (9.7 ppg., 35.7 FG%, 20 total assists, 22 total turnovers). Of those 4, Barefield may seem like a bit of an anomaly, but it’s because he’s been a very streaky player. If Barefield plays well, he plays very well. But if Butler can take advantage of his inconsistency and force a lot of turnovers out of him, that could cripple the Utah offense since he’s one of Utah’s top 3 facilitators.
Utah’s cumulative season stats by player are here.
We’ll find out more about where Butler and Utah stand when they throw down at Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight. Tip-off is at 9:00 PM EST.