No. 1 Villanova hoping to avoid another upset from Butler
INDIANAPOLIS — The Butler University basketball team will see if recent history can repeat itself.
Last season, the host Bulldogs upset No. 1 Villanova 66-58 on Jan. 4. The Wildcats, who won the 2016 NCAA championship, were 14-0 heading into that game. Butler then knocked off No. 2 Villanova 74-66 on Feb. 22.
The Bulldogs (11-3, 1-0 Big East) will host No. 1 Villanova (13-0, 1-0) in Big East action at 4 p.m. Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“They know we beat them twice last season, so they’re coming with a chip on their shoulder like they are underdogs,” Butler senior forward Kelan Martin said. “It’s a great team. They have a lot of great players and a great coach. Their system is great. We have to slow them down offensively.”
The atmosphere is expected to be charged with a capacity crowd.
“I know this place will be rocking and the atmosphere will be great,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “We’re going to try to protect home court as best as we can.”
Jordan, a former Butler assistant coach and player, replaced Chris Holtmann who took the Ohio State job after last season.
The Bulldogs are 8-0 at home this season. Butler rebounded from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat host Georgetown 91-89 in double overtime on Wednesday night.
Jordan is impressed with the Wildcats’ efficiency.
“They’re very disciplined and very solid,” Jordan said. “We just have to mirror that on our end with our shot selection and movement on offense. Then we have to stay down and stay solid defensively. They’ve got a ton of weapons. They take their time and great shots. It will be a battle of wills.”
Villanova is led by junior point guard Jalen Brunson, a top candidate for Big East Player of the Year, and redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges.
Brunson is averaging 17.9 points and 5.0 assists. Brunson is shooting 59 percent from the field, including 51 percent on 3-pointers. Bridges is averaging 17.5 points, hitting 51 percent of his shots, including 45 percent on 3s.
As a team, the Wildcats are shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
“We have some really talented guys but they have a really high basketball IQ,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told reporters after topping DePaul 103-85 on Wednesday night. “They’re always looking to make the right play, not just scoring points.”
Wright said the Wildcats will rely on their veterans early in the conference season.
“It’s important that the older guys step up and bring the other guys along,” Wright said.
Wright said he has heard comparisons between Villanova and Butler.
“I take that as a compliment if we are compared to Butler’s style or Butler’s ethos,” Wright said. “We have a lot of respect for The Butler Way. I love how they play. They’ve given us a lot of trouble because of their attention to detail and their commitment to their identity. They know what they want to do. They know how they want to play. It never looks like they are trying to figure anything out. It looks like they know who they are, they know what they are, and they are going to bring it to you right in your face.”
Villanova won the first seven games in the series prior to last season. The two teams only met once before Butler joined the Big East.
On Friday, Villanova announced that forward Jermaine Samuels has a broken bone in his left hand and will miss at least six weeks.
“We’re all very disappointed for Jermaine,” Wright said. “He has impressed our staff and his teammates with his intelligence, work ethic, and skills.”