In a matchup that wouldn’t have been given much thought in the preseason, Butler travels to Queens on New Year’s Eve to take on St. John’s. While neither team was afforded much optimism just a couple short months ago, both squads find themselves inside the Kenpom top 80, and Butler even finds themselves ranked within the top 15 in the nation.
Butler, 12-1 on the season, has found success in slowing the pace way down. The Bulldogs were never exactly setting the court on fire in their previous two seasons under LaVell Jordan, but their current 333rd ranking in the tempo metric is 70 spots lower than last season’s 263rd ranking.
That slowed-down offense has resulted in a top 20 team in offensive efficiency and a top 10 team in defensive efficiency. Senior guard Kamar Baldwin has always been a star, but the emergence of Sean McDermott as one of the best knockdown shooters in the country, along with tremendous quality depth, has made the Bulldogs unequivocally the biggest surprise in the nation before the turn of the calendar.
While Butler has been a surprise, anyone who told you that they believed St. John’s would be 11-2 heading into the new year is simply lying to you. In the preseason, there were concerns regarding Mustapha Heron’s health, and Chris Mullin was not being accused of leaving new coach Mike Anderson a well-stocked pantry.
However, LJ Figeroa has played tremendously so far, and Heron’s health concerns seem to have been somewhat overblown, as both are averaging north of 15 points per game. Freshman Julian Champagnie has also been a great contributor as the team’s second-leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer.
Butler is a four-point favorite in this contest, with the over/under set at 138.
Can Butler Maintain During Conference Play?
A popular selection to finish in the bottom half of a very good Big East, Butler was awesome in non-conference play, posting wins against Purdue, Florida, Stanford, Missouri, and Minnesota. The Bulldogs’ lone loss, a true road game at Baylor, is one of the best losses a team can hope for.
Butler is 10-0 straight up as the favorite this season and 9-3-1 against the spread overall. The Bulldogs’ grind-it-out style typically keeps the score low, as illustrated by their under in nine of 13 contests.
Can The Johnnies Continue To Prove People Wrong?
Anderson and the Red Storm are one of the biggest surprises in the nation and continue to impress. In years past, a start such as this season’s could be contributed to an easy schedule, but that is not the case in 2019-20.
St. Johns already owns wins over Arizona and West Virginia, with its only missteps coming against Vermont and Arizona State. The Red Storm are 8-4-1 against the spread this season and have gone under in nine of 13 contests, which is interesting considering their No. 18 ranking in tempo.
They are also a notable 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven games.
Pick and Prediction
Its easier to believe in the Butler start than the Red Storm’s start at this point. While St. John’s has some good wins and no bad losses, its overall strength of schedule is ranked 336th in the nation. Butler has played a near top 100 schedule and only two teams that rank outside of Kenpom’s top 85 since Nov. 22.
Butler looks to be better prepared for conference play than St. John’s at this point. The under is the most obvious play for this game as both teams like to play defense. The biggest concern for St. John’s is it has the sixth-shortest offensive possessions in the country at 14.7, and it isn’t a great shooting team.
It’s tough to go against a home dog, but expect the Bulldogs to force St. John’s into bad, quick shots and to slow it down on offense to make the Red Storm work. Hammer the under and take the Bulldogs to cover all the way up to around six.
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