Butler faces longtime nemesis Xavier today (7 p.m., FS1, WLYV 1450 AM) in the quarterfinal round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York, and history shows that it will be a challenge for the Bulldogs.
The 18th-ranked Bulldogs (23-7) have won both games this season with Xavier (20-12), but according to Butler coach Chris Holtmann, that doesn’t mean much as of tonight.
“The fact of the matter is,” Holtmann said earlier this season, “we haven’t fared very well against them since we’ve been in the Big East. The reality is that it has been somewhat one-sided.”
The Musketeers have won twice as many games (six) in this series, since both teams joined the Big East four years ago, as Butler has (three).
“I think that our guys understand how important this game is,” Holtmann said, “particularly to our fan base. And it is important to them.”
In the late February win at Xavier, Butler shot the ball tremendously (54.8 percent) from the field and didn’t turn the ball over much (committing just seven miscues). However, Holtmann is hoping those aspects of play are again apparent today, but he knows that they might not be.
“I don’t think that it is realistic for us to think our game will be the same as the one we just played,” Holtmann said. “We’re going to have to defend and rebound a lot better than we did.”
In that recent win, Butler got beat on the glass 33-26 (including 11 to 7 offensively), but the truth is, Xavier does that to almost everybody. The Musketeers are the best offensive rebounding team in the conference.
“We need to group rebound a lot better,” Holtmann said. “They are a great rebounding team and they have just always been that certainly since (Xavier coach Chris Mack) has been there.
“That is going to have to be a huge point of emphasis.”
The Musketeers have struggled mightily over the past month after losing star guard Edmond Sumner to an injury. The only wins (three) that the Musketeers have in their last nine games are against Big East doormat DePaul.
“Xavier is a really good team,” Butler guard Tyler Lewis said recently. “They are not going to give us anything easy.”
History to be made in an historic site?
Not only has Butler struggled against Xavier in recent years, the Bulldogs haven’t had any success in this event.
The Bulldogs have played in three Big East Tournaments in the famed Madison Square Garden and lost in their opening game all three years. However, that hasn’t negatively impacted Holtmann’s appreciation for the venue.
“It means everything,” Holtmann said of playing the event in this arena. “Our tournament would be completely different without Madison Square Garden. It just would.
“You are talking about one of the most iconic venues in the world and obviously a terrific city as a backdrop. So to play our tournament there, every year, is really special.”
Graduate student transfer Avery Woodson has only been a part of the Butler program for this season after graduating from Memphis and transferring last spring. But he too, spoke of being really excited to participate in this tournament.
“Having a chance to keep playing,” Woodson said, “in one of the best basketball tournaments there is to play in, the Big East Tournament, I’m sure all of our players are excited and our coaches are excited for the task at hand.”