Villanova Should Be Duly Motivated to Hulk Smash Butler

butler villanova

Matthew Jordan

Friday, February 9, 2018 3:55 PM UTC

Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 3:55 PM UTC

The first ranked team in action Saturday in NCAA basketball is No. 1 Villanova with a noon ET home tip against Butler as the Bulldogs look for the season sweep.

Butler Bulldogs at No. 1 Villanova WildcatsFree NCAAB Pick: VillanovaBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Busy day of NCAA basketball gets started at noon ET on FOX national TV as Butler visits No. 1 Villanova, which is likely to be rather ornery because of what happened earlier this week and earlier this season vs. the Bulldogs.

Butler can’t win the Big East but could help hand the title to current conference leader Xavier with an upset here. The Bulldogs handed Villanova its first conference loss back on Dec. 30, 101-93 with the Wildcats as 5.5-point favorites. Butler shot an unlikely 60 percent from the field and an even more unlikely 68.2 percent (15-for-22) from long range in posting the most points against Villanova since Feb. 16, 2014.

Kelan Martin led the Bulldogs with 24 points (4-for-4 from deep), Paul Jorgensen had 23 and Kamar Baldwin did it all with 19 points, seven assists and nine rebounds. That win seemed to mess with the Butler players because the team lost its next three. It was Butler’s third win all-time against the nation’s No. 1 team (twice vs. Nova) in eight tries, and the school’s three victories over top-ranked teams since the beginning of the 2012-13 season are the most of any team in the nation in that span. Butler was the first team to score 100 points in a win over a No. 1 team since UMass beat Arkansas in 1994

It’s not like Villanova played badly as it shot 54 percent and had only four turnovers. Likely Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson had 31 points to lead Villanova, which trailed by as many as 23. The Cats have now lost three straight in this series.

In the past nine meetings, Villanova is 4-5 ATS with it an average favorite of 7.2 points.

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Cats Scratched Fever

Villanova (22-2 SU, 9-2 Big East, 16-8 ATS) was going to be very fired up to win this game just from the first meeting, but that motivation is likely double now. That’s because the Wildcats suffered the upset of the season – perhaps caught looking ahead – on Wednesday, losing 79-75 at home to a St. John’s team that had been 0-11 in the Big East. It was the Red Storm’s first win over a No. 1 team since 1985 when current Coach Chris Mullin starred at St. John’s. It was also the first time in the AP Poll era that a team with an 0-10 or worse record in conference play beat the No. 1 team in the country.

The Wildcats made just 8-for-33 from long range. Brunson had 28 points but was 2-for-11 from deep. To be fair, Villanova was without two starters in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, and they combine for 21.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Paschall was scratched because he’s in the concussion protocol and won’t play Saturday, either, meaning Coach Jay Wright again will likely have only a six-man rotation again. Booth has missed the past four with a broken hand and is out weeks.

Nova had spent the past five weeks at No. 1 in the polls but surely will drop regardless of what happens here. Now the school has to focus on winning the Big East regular-season title again with Xavier a half-game ahead. Those two play in Cincinnati on Feb. 17, and we’ll have a preview here at SBR.

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Expecting another tough battle on Saturday. The last few meetings have been appointment viewing.

— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) February 8, 2018

Butler (17-8 SU, 7-5 Big East, 13-11 ATS) can eliminate any potential of being an NCAA Tournament bubble team with another win over Villanova. The Bulldogs had a four-game winning streak snapped Tuesday in a 98-93 home overtime loss to Xavier. Butler did well just to get it to OT as it trailed by as many as 18. Martin had 34 points, but he could be a bit gassed after playing 45 minutes. He leads the Big East in scoring at 22.9 ppg (conference games only) and is averaging 19.3 ppg in his last four games vs. the Wildcats.

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend Villanova down two starters, but this is a revenge game and it’s hard to see the Cats playing badly in back-to-back home matchups. They have covered nine of their past 12 after a loss. Butler, meanwhile, is just 3-8 ATS in its past 11 on the road. Take Villanova on your Saturday NCAAB pick.

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