No. 22 Butler rides win streak to Xavier

CINCINNATI — It’s a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions with No. 22 Butler visiting Xavier on Sunday at Cintas Center.

The Bulldogs (22-6, 11-5 in the Big East) have won three straight games and are coming off a huge road win at No. 2 Villanova, winning 74-66 behind 22 points from Kelan Martin.

Butler has beaten the defending NCAA champions twice this season.

Xavier (18-10, 8-7), meanwhile, has lost four straight. The Musketeers began the season ranked in the top 10 but since have dismissed senior guard Myles Davis, lost dynamic sophomore point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending knee injury, and played without leading scorer Trevon Bluiett for three games due to an ankle injury.

Xavier appears safe in terms of its NCAA Tournament status, but a win on Sunday would help bolster that resume.

“We can’t worry about ramifications and implications,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “We have to worry about a really good Butler team. All that other stuff is wasted worry.”

Bluiett returned to the starting lineup Wednesday and scored 14 points in a 71-64 loss at Seton Hall. He has posted a team-high 13 games with 20 points or more.

Martin has been among the catalysts for Butler’s recent surge, averaging 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in that stretch. In three games before the winning streak, Martin averaged 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.

While the Musketeers have been trying to make do with limited numbers, depth has been key for Butler, whose bench has outscored opponents in 14 of 16 Big East games.

Freshman guard Kamar Baldwin scored 15 points in the win over Villanova. He scored all 21 of his points in the second half during the win over Xavier at Hinkle Fieldhouse in January.

“He’s got a real air of confidence that I love in a player,” Bulldogs head coach Chris Holtmann told the Indianapolis Star. “We need to continue to foster that.”

Xavier leads the all-time series 37-19 and had won four straight before losing at Butler last month. The Musketeers have won four of five against the Bulldogs and 16 of the last 21. Xavier is 5-1 versus Butler at Cintas Center.

Sunday’s game takes on added importance for Xavier.

“It’s a challenging time for our team,” Mack said. “Having Trey (Bluiett) back helps everyone. Hopefully, we can stay healthy down the stretch and have a strong finish.”

Likewise, for Butler, which is looking to match its school record of 12 Big East wins. A win at Xavier also would give the Bulldogs a boost in their hopes of opening the NCAA Tournament in their hometown of Indianapolis.

“What you’re really trying to do is set yourself up to play meaningful games at this time of year,” Holtmann said. “That’s what makes being a college basketball player fun.”

The Bulldogs come into Sunday’s game red-hot from the perimeter.

Butler hit 10 3-pointers in the win at Villanova, marking the seventh time they’ve done so this season. Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs are 7-0 in those games.

Avery Woodson is 13 of 24 from 3-point range during the winning streak and probably a focus for Xavier defenders on Sunday.