The Butler Bulldogs have survived life without former coach Brad Stevens so far as they are off to a 4-0 start and they should prevail over Washington State Thursday.
Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of the Old Spice Classic, and the undefeated team with the new head coach looks to have the advantage when those Butler Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0 away) take on the Washington State Huskies (2-2, 0-1 away) at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, FL at 2:00 ET in a tournament televised nationally on ESPN2.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Butler as a moderate favorite for this contest with the current line at -4½ with odds of -110.
Butler comes off of a two-point third round loss to the Marquette Golden Eagles in the NCAA Tournament last season, but the biggest news for the Bulldogs was the departure of the mastermind of their previous deep runs in the Big Dance including two NCAA Championship Game appearances in former coach Brad Stevens, who left for the greener pastures of the Boston Celtics of the NBA. Butler does not seem the worst for wear in the early going however.
Washington State comes off of a dismal 13-19 season that included a 4-14 mark inside the less-than-stellar Pac-12, and losing at home to TCU as a 14-point favorite on Sunday does not exactly exude confidence entering a tournament like this, especially vs. a quality opponent like this.
Butler makes the leap to the “new” Big East this season after dominating the Horizon League for so many years, and it does so with a new coach in Brandon Miller, who previously served as an assistant coach under Stevens here at Butler before moving on to serve in that same capacity at Ohio State. He now returns “home” for his first head coaching position, and he is doing so with his team moving into a tougher conference that it is accustomed too.
Still, the early returns are promising with the Bulldogs off to a 4-0 start after passing their first road test, albeit barely, at Ball State 59-58 on Saturday. Butler won with stiff defense and a methodical offense under Stevens, and truth be told nothing much has changed under Miller, which is probably a good thing!
The defense is ranked 46th in efficiency in the early going while forcing turnovers on 22.0 percent of opponents’ possessions, well above the national average of 18.4 percent. Meanwhile the offense has been excellent at ball-handling turning it over a mere 12.5 percent of the time, which is sixth best in the country. Just that turnover disparity alone will win you a lot of games, and when an offensive boost is needed Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall are combining for 31.6 PPG.
Washington State opened up the season with two cupcake wins vs. Lamar and CS Bakersfield, but it has lost two straight games since. Granted, losing to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in a true road contest at Spokane is certainly forgivable, but the home loss to TCU points to another troubled season, as the Horned Frogs are a team that lost to Longwood earlier on and that is ranked 238th on the early Pomeroy Ratings.
The Cougars rank only 208th in offensive efficiency, and there is no reason to expect improvement vs. the stiff Butler defense. Washington State cannot rely on many second chance opportunities either as the Cougs are ranked 227th in offensive rebounding percentage while the Bulldogs are an excellent 33rd in defensive rebounding percentage.
Add this all up and Butler should win handily in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando on Thanksgiving Thursday.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Butler -4½ (-110)