INDIANAPOLIS – Third-year Butler men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann doesn’t “anticipate making a change to the starting lineup” in tonight’s Big East battle with No. 1-ranked Villanova. However, that doesn’t mean that the “in-game” or “finishing” lineup might not be altered.
The Wildcats (14-0, 2-0 BE) visit 18th-ranked Butler (12-2, 1-1) tonight at 6:30 p.m. (FS1, WLYV 1450 AM), and with them they will bring size, strength and plenty of experience, which is most notable in the backcourt.
“They’re big, physical strong guards,” Holtmann said. “They’ve got big, attacking, strong guards. (Villanova coach Jay Wright) has always had that.”
To counter that, the 9,000-plus fans filling an already sold-out Hinkle Fieldhouse may see Holtmann utilize fifth-year guard Kethan Savage even more than he already has been of late.
“I think he’ll be utilized,” Bulldog assistant coach Ryan Pedon said. “You go into a game with a mindset of how things will play out, but you never quite know.”
What the Butler staff does “know,” however, is that Villanova is big and physical – at a lot of positions.
The Wildcats start 6-foot-5, 215 pound senior Josh Hart, 6-foot-7, 210 pound Mikal Bridges, and 6-foot-2, 190 pound Jalen Brunson on the perimeter, while the Bulldogs roll out 5-foot-11 Tyler Lewis and 6-foot Kamar Baldwin, both just 170 pounds. That is why Savage at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds could play a significant role, which is something that has been happening with more frequency of late.
“As the year goes on,” Pedon explained, “as he gets more and more comfortable, he will be a more regular part of our rotation.”
Savage had a shoulder injury that limited his work through this past off-season and he developed back spasms during the preseason, which cut into his workload. To add to those issues, in November he developed pneumonia and ultimately didn’t play in Butler’s initial four games. However, he has been “brought along slowly due to the nature of his injury,” according to Pedon and his minutes have risen from 10 against Cincinnati (Dec. 10) to 21 against Providence (Sunday).
“Physically, I am getting there,” Savage said. “My conditioning, I feel like is getting better and better.”
It’s been challenging now that the Bulldogs are immersed into their league season, but Savage has managed to find pockets of time to do extra work in the gym to make up for lost time.
“I’ve been able to go for longer times,” Savage said. “I’ve been getting (in the gym) as much as possible to get some extra shots and some extra running in.”
Savage hadn’t scored more than four points all season, but he has 20 in the past two games on an impressive 7 of 13 shooting.
“He brings us an element of physicality from the guard position at both ends,” Pedon said. “We need that and we’ll be able to use that moving forward.”
Villanova doesn’t play anyone in its rotation younger than a sophomore, and it starts three seniors. That experience has been developed through three seasons of winning every Big East regular season title, as well as last spring’s national championship.
“The impressive thing about Villanova is,” Holtmann said, “just like Butler in the Horizon League in a lot of ways, Villanova has withstood nearly every punch, every time they play.”
However, Savage and Lewis, as well as guard Avery Woodson are each in their fifth seasons of college, while the Bulldog front court starts junior Tyler Wideman and senior Andrew Chrabascz.
“There is a lot to be said about having experience,” Pedon said. “We are in the position that we are today (nationally ranked and 12-2) because of our experience in a lot of ways.”
Depth: Advantage Butler
Butler doesn’t hold a lot of advantages over Villanova, but if there is one, it is in the Bulldogs’ depth.
Villanova plays just seven players – though they are all extremely good – while Butler regularly goes nine deep and Holtmann taps into his bench quickly in games.
“We need (our depth) if we’re going to have a good year,” Holtmann said recently after playing nine guys at least nine minutes in a win over Providence. “In league play, we’re going to really need a lot of different contributions. That makes us harder to defend and we have to be more disciplined, collectively, as a group and off the bench defensively.”
In Butler’s two Bog East games, reserves Sean McDermott (10 minutes), Nate Fowler (13 ½ minutes), Savage (19 minutes), and Woodson (17 ½ minutes) are all being thrown into the mix early and often.
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) December 28, 2016