Villanova-Butler Preview

BY foxsports • January 10, 2016

In what's been a difficult time for the Butler program, another loss in Big East play would only compound matters.

The No. 18 Bulldogs try to avoid falling further back in the conference standings when 11th-ranked and league-leading Villanova visits Hinkle Fieldhouse on Sunday night.

Butler (12-3, 1-2) put itself in an early hole by beginning its Big East slate with losses to Providence and Xavier, removing some of the luster from an 11-1 start that rose the Bulldogs to ninth in the AP poll. One of the nation's most efficient offenses shot a combined 40.2 percent in the two defeats, in which Butler allowed over 80 points in each.

"I think there's no question we've gotten exposed in some areas," coach Chris Holtmann said. "There's no question we've got to get better in a lot of ways."

The Bulldogs bounced back with Tuesday's hard-earned 77-72 victory at DePaul but may have lost invaluable senior forward Roosevelt Jones for an extended period after the versatile four-year starter sprained his left wrist during Thursday's practice.

Jones' injury came shortly after the family of former player Andrew Smith issued a public request for prayers in his ongoing battle with cancer. Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Smith's coach at Butler, missed his team's game against Chicago on Thursday to visit the ailing 25-year-old in his Indiana home.

With their focus likely elsewhere, the Bulldogs now face a rolling Villanova team that's won 18 straight Big East games including last season's conference tournament. The Wildcats (13-2, 3-0) are riding a five-game winning streak in which they've outscored opponents by an average of 20.8 points.

After shooting a combined 65.4 percent in double-digit victories over then-No. 6 Xavier and Creighton to open its Big East slate, Villanova relied on its stout defense and Daniel Ochefu to post a 72-63 win over Seton Hall on Wednesday.

The Wildcats overcame a 4-of-22 performance from the 3-point line by holding the Pirates to 35.6 percent shooting and receiving season bests of 20 points and 18 rebounds from Ochefu. The senior went 9 of 10 from the field in a 19-point effort in last Saturday's 85-71 win at Creighton.

"That is what we are going to take from (Tuesday's) game, there are going to be nights we are not making shots and we need to be able to do other things," coach Jay Wright said.

Villanova tops the Big East in scoring defense (60.5 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (37.7), while the Bulldogs rank among the Division I leaders in scoring (86.5 ppg) and field goal percentage (49.5). They're shooting 54.3 percent while winning seven of eight at home this season.

With Jones (14.3 ppg), Butler's leader in rebounds and assists, doubtful to play, the Bulldogs hope Kellen Dunham's re-emergence against DePaul carries over. The senior had 24 points and is 7 for 12 on 3-pointers over his last two games after an 0-for-21 performance over his previous five.

"I noticed in the Xavier game he started to maybe relax a little bit," said Holtmann. "I think it was only going to take one make for him to go down and I thought he was putting a little bit too much pressure on himself."

Dunham had 19 points in a 68-65 home loss to the Wildcats last season, in which current Detroit Piston Darrun Hilliard capped a 31-point night with a go-ahead 3 with 1.5 seconds left.

The Wildcats are 5-0 all-time against Butler, including a 67-55 win at Villanova on Dec. 31, 2014.

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