Wildcats prepare for road test against Butler



Greg Habeeb

In a rematch of New Year’s Eve’s showdown, the No. 6 Wildcats will continue their march through Big East play when they take on conference foe No. 18, Butler, Saturday evening at the Hinkle Fieldhouse.  

In their first meeting, ’Nova dispatched the ’Dogs by 12, riding a strong second half defensive effort to a double digit victory.

This time around, Villanova will be playing to maintain its spot at the top of the Big East.

Butler (18-6, 8-3 Big East) comes into Saturday’s matchup as one of the conference’s hottest teams. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and seven of their last eight, combining double digit victories with down to the wire nail biters. 

The team’s recent surge has propelled it to second place in the Big East standings, right behind Villanova.

Offensively, Butler will look to junior guard Kellen Dunham to carry the load. Dunham was held in check for the most part in the first matchup, as the Wildcats slowed the prolific scorer to only 10 points on 4-10 shooting. 

That performance has not been indicative of Dunham’s play this season, as the Pendleton, Ind. native has been a force for the Bulldogs all season long, averaging 16.7 points per game, while shooting a career high 44 percent from the field. 

In Butler’s last game, a 10-point victory over DePaul, Dunham shined, scoring a game high 24 points. 

The Bulldogs also rely on contributions from other key players such as junior forward Roosevelt Jones, who is averaging 13 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, and senior forward Kameron Woods, who leads the team in rebounding. 

The Wildcats will likely look to exploit the Bulldogs inside. In December, the Wildcats managed to outscore Butler, 28-20 in the paint, and junior forward Daniel Ochefu and senior forward Jayvaughn Pinkston combined to shoot 9-14 from the field (64 percent), scoring 23 points total. 

Pinkston also managed to make several trips to the line, and while he was only 5-9 from the charity stripe, his post-game clearly caused some issues for the Bulldogs down low. 

Villanova will attempt to lean on Pinkston again to provide interior scoring. While Pinkston is the most polished post player for the Wildcats (Ochefu’s developing baby hook notwithstanding), he has not been quite as effective near the rim as he was last season, when he averaged a career high 14.1 points per game. 

According to data provided by Hoop-Math.com, Pinkston is converting fewer than 52 percent of his shots at the rim this season, a career low and about a 12 percent decrease from last year’s mark of 63.8 percent. 

That decrease, combined with a regression from mid-range, has caused Pinkston’s shooting percentage to fall from last season’s career high mark of 52.1 percent to a less than impressive 42.1 percent. 

Fortunately for the Pinkston and the Wildcats, Butler is the definition of middle of the pack when it comes to protecting the rim. 

The Bulldogs are 176th out of 351 in opponent FG percentage at the rim, and only slightly better (131st in the nation) when looking at percentage of opponent shots blocked at the rim.

Woods is Butler’s only player who stands 6-9 or taller. That lack of a true shot blocker should mean Ochefu and Pinkston will have their way down low once again.

Though Villanova has shown a tendency to play down to the level of their opponents from time to time this season, they will likely be fired up against a conference foe seeking to steal their spot at the top of the conference standings.

If the Wildcats are simply able to replicate late December’s game plan and avoid the turnovers and sloppy shooting that plagued their two losses, then they should be able to handle Dunham with their solid defense and defeat the Bulldogs on Butler’s famous home court. 

Tip off for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. 

Photo courtesy of villanova.com