A key contest in the Big East finds Marquette visiting No. 13 Butler on Friday night.
Just two weeks ago, the Butler Bulldogs were the darlings of the college basketball universe. That has all come to a screeching halt now. The Bulldogs rose to as high as No. 5 in the AP poll but have now lost three games in a row in conference play and left some in doubt as to how good they actually are.
The offense has been efficient during the streak; in fact, the Bulldogs’ points per possession has been better over their three-game skid than their season-long numbers. It is the defense that is letting them down. The Bulldogs have surrendered at least 1.15 points per possession in each of their last three games.
Another concern for coach LaVall Jordan is the play of senior forward Sean McDermott. The 6-6 wing had established himself as one of the most lethal knockdown shooters in the nation this season but has struggled during the three-game skid. He’s hit just 7-of-29 (24.1 percent) from the field and 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) from behind the three-point line.
Marquette comes into the game on a three-game winning streak and riding the scorching hot hand of Markus Howard. The senior guard has averaged 36.3 points in his last three games and has dug the Golden Eagles out of a 1-3 conference hole and into the thick of the Big East race at 4-3.
Utah State transfer Koby McEwen (9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists) has been fantastic for the Golden Eagles, while senior Sacar Anim is having a career year across the board, averaging 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and shooting 40.8 percent from behind the arc.
Butler is a 5.5-point favorite at home, with the over/under set at 137.5.
An Eagle, Or A Phoenix?
Marquette carries a stigma as an inconsistent program. That typically comes with being a team that relies so heavily on jump shots. Since dropping three of four to open conference play, coach Steve Wojciechowski’s group has found itself and recovered nicely.
The Golden Eagles are 12-7 against the spread on the season, including 10-5 ATS in their last 15 games. As expected, they are 11/8 over/under overall and have gone over in nine of their last 11 games.
Their recent history against the Bulldogs is not in their favor, however, as they are 2-5 both straight up and against the spread against Butler in their last seven matchups.
Can The Bulldogs Get It Back?
Butler really just needs to get back to what works: Slow it down, grind it out and defend. Of course, the Big East is a gauntlet, and it is easier said than done when you need to defend Myles Powell or Howard or coach against Jay Wright.
Playing at home could be the remedy, as the Bulldogs are 6-3-1 against the spread in Hinkle and 13-2 straight up this season as the favorite. They are 9-1 at home on the season and have held the total under in seven of those 10 games.
The Bulldogs are also 5-1 against the spread in their last six home games against Marquette.
Hinkle Is A Butler’s Haven
Under Jordan, the Bulldogs are 35-8 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. This season, Butler ranks in the top 10 in points allowed as well as offensive three-point percentage. Until this recent three-game skid, Butler had been one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Even after their recent lapses, they still rate in the 93rd percentile, surrendering just 0.78 points per possession on the season. Howard is a tall order for any team, but Aaron Thompson is also one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the entire country.
The Bulldogs should snap out of their funk and get the win straight up, but I would bet that Howard & Co. keep it close and ultimately cover. The Bulldogs are also going to have to score some points, and McDermott is due, so play the over. Take Marquette +5.5.
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