The Xavier Musketeers travel to meet the Butler Bulldogs for tonights college basketball matchup. See what the sportsbook odds makers are offering us as we decide how we are going to play our NCAA Basketball picks tonight.
It's not often that we see a televised matchup this time of
year pitting two teams that are both from outside the Big 6 conferences. Generally, at least one team -- if not both
-- hails from the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC or Pac-12.
But ESPN is giving viewers and NCAA Basketball bettors an opportunity for
just that on Wednesday when the Xavier Musketeers travel to meet the Butler
Bulldogs. Tip from Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will come a
bit past 9 PM (ET) in this A-10, Horizon League duel, and the NCAA basketball odds have the Musketeers laying 5.5 with a 126 point total. Which way should you look when it comes to making your college basketball picks?
Before we give ESPN too much credit for showing this
matchup, let's not forget two big reasons why it's prime-time material to begin
with. Final exams are either taking
place or about to on college campuses, and athletic programs in season are in a
bit of a slumber. If not for finals, the
first of about 60 bowl games would be on the boob tube about now.
Secondly, let's not forget that one of these 'little guys'
has become more of a household name with appearances in each of the last two NCAA
Tournament Finals. People who had never
heard of even the Horizon League two short years ago now know who the Butler
Bulldogs are. Some might even know the
To his credit, and much to Butler's delight, Brad Stevens is still the
coach through what should be a tough rebuilding season. Stevens could have easily bolted after this
season, with several Big 6 openings in places like Maryland,
Missouri, Texas A&M, Miami,
North Carolina State and Tennessee. But he didn't.
The Bulldogs saw the season get off on the wrong note with
an overtime loss on the road to Evansville, and
are coming off another OT defeat at home last Saturday to conference rival Valparaiso that dropped Butler to 4-4. Stevens' squad also isn't making any friends
among bettors, failing to cover the college basketball betting spread in any of the five lined contests.
Losing three of the top 4 scorers off last season's team is
the first thing many will point to as Butler's
biggest problems. And, yes, the
offensive numbers aren't too appealing as well as down a bit from the previous
two squads. But let's face it, putting
up points was not what got the Bulldogs into each of the last two finals.
Lifting that field goal mark that is currently below 41% and
sinking a higher percentage of free throws are improvements that have to be
made. But the real road back to winning
games will come on the defensive end. Butler is allowing 63.5 points per game, good enough to rank just inside
the top half of the country, but a deeper look into that number reveals about a
10-point jump in opponents' scoring when the Bulldogs haven't been playing the
likes of UT-Chattanooga, Savannah State and Oakland City.
The good news is Butler
won't exactly be taking on an offensive juggernaut in Xavier, though the
Musketeers certainly have solid weapons to pop the net. Solid guards in senior
Tu Holloway (18.0 PPG) and junior Mark Lyons (17.3 PPG) team up with 7-footer
Kenny Frease (9.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG) to give XU a formidable trio. Holloway also leads the team in assists (5.0)
and has combined with Lyons
to form a very accurate duo from long range (18 for 38, 47%).
Like Stevens at Butler,
defense and glass work is stressed in Chris Mack's scheme at Xavier. So far, the Musketeers have done the better
job at both. Teams have yet to shoot 43%
or better against Xavier, and a true team effort has the Musketeers among the
nation's best at pulling down rebounds.
Holloway will get all of the attention in this game, and for
good reason. He's coming off a pair of
games in which he caught fire late to rally Xavier past good Vanderbilt and
Purdue teams. He could be on the verge
of lifting this team on his shoulders, a la Kemba Walker at UConn a year ago,
and carrying the Musketeers deep into March. Or he could revert to inconsistent ways.
The battle down low between Frease of XU and Butler's Andrew
Smith could ultimately decide the contest, but the best part of the show might
be turned in by getting glimpses at a couple of talented freshmen on each side.
XU's Dezmine Wells may wind up being a big talent that got
away from Tobacco Road. The 6-5 guard
has been getting plenty of court time and will be eager to make up for his big
zero performance in the win over Purdue. Andy Smeathers has just started to get his feet wet for Butler the last two games, and could be well
overmatched against a more experienced Xavier...or simply catch fire from three
point land as he has shown along his young hoops career.
Taking a Chance: Even with the talent advantage, this is a tough
call on Xavier. The Musketeers are on
the road in a very real letdown spot and playing a gritty Butler team that hasn't lost consecutive games
at Hinkle since February 2007. Still,
I'm going to bite on the chalk and make Xavier -5.5 my pick, Musketeers win it