No. 1-ranked Villanova knows Butler presents ‘a lot of trouble’
It’s easy to believe that because Villanova has won each of the past four Big East Conference men’s basketball regular season titles, as well as two of the postseason tournaments, that the Wildcats have dominated this league since its reconfiguration in 2013. However, veteran Villanova coach Jay Wright knows that isn’t the case, especially when it comes to battling Butler.
“They have given us trouble,” Wright said earlier this week. “A lot of trouble.”
The Bulldogs (11-3, 1-0 Big East) hope to continue doing so today, as the No. 1-ranked Wildcats (13-0, 1-0) visit Hinkle Fieldhouse at 4 p.m. for a nationally-televised game (CBS).
Butler has only beaten Villanova twice (both times last season) in eight Big East games, but it has come close on several other occasions.
Two seasons ago at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs led by seven early in the second half before falling 60-55.
The year prior to that, the Wildcats fought back from a 5-point hole in the second half to bury a 3-pointer with :02 remaining to win 68-65 in Indianapolis.
And even in Butler’s initial season in the league, one in which the Bulldogs struggled and finished with a 14-17 season mark, the Bulldogs still fought ‘Nova valiantly before dropping an overtime game 76-73.
“I just love how they play,” Wright said.
Last year, Villanova came to Hinkle Fieldhouse as the nation’s top-ranked team and fell 66-58 and then Butler did itself one better by later beating the then-ranked No. 2 Wildcats 74-66 in Philadelphia.
“They beat us twice last year because of their attention to detail and their commitment to their identity,” Wright explained. “They know what they want to do and they know how they want to play. It never looks like they are trying to figure anything out.”
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Perhaps Wright hasn’t seen this year’s edition of Butler basketball.
In six games against high-major opposition this season, Butler has trailed in the second half in five of them. On a positive note, the Bulldogs have fought back to win half of those six contests.
“That’s where we’ve got to be better as coaches,” first-year Butler coach LaVall Jordan said following getting smoked by Purdue recently. “That’s on me to make sure we start games with the same mentality, with the same aggressiveness, and try to get the same quality on both ends of the floor.”
Let the record show that 11 days after making that statement, Jordan’s team fell behind by 20 in the first half at Georgetown before rallying for an overtime win. But nonetheless, Wright has always been impressed by the Bulldogs – on and off of the court.
Four years ago on his first trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse, Wright paused outside of the Butler basketball offices and took a photo of a wall that is adorned with “The Butler Way” and the characteristics of such.
“I’ll take that as a compliment if we are compared to Butler’s style, Butler’s ethos,” Wright said. “We have great respect for the Butler Way.”
The Bulldogs haven’t always played well this year, particularly against top competition, but there is something admirable about this group and its willingness to not give up, as they have mounted staggering comebacks against Ohio State last month and most recently, Georgetown.
“It looks like they know who they are,” Wright gushed. “They know what they are and they are going to go bring it to you right in your face. We have great respect for that.”
BIG EAST LOVE
Jordan wasn’t able to compete in a high-major league when he played for the Bulldogs earlier in this century, and as a coach, being in the Big East makes his job more difficult on gamedays. However, he recently spoke on how much pride he has in Butler being in this revamped and much more formidable league, even if it means tougher competition.
“It’s different than being in the Horizon League or the old (Midwestern Collegiate Conference),” Jordan said, “where you don’t get to see all of these (top) guys all of the time. Maybe once on a neutral site in a tournament setting, so this is exciting.”
“It’s given us a jump from a recruiting standpoint, because you can do everything that you want to do from Butler, in terms of playing at the highest level every night, all of your dreams in the conference, competing for a national championship, and playing after college and having a chance at the pros. That is what the Big East provides you a stage to do.”
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