It’s finals week on college campuses across the nation which makes Saturday’s game between the No. 22 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats and No. 16 ranked Butler Bulldogs especially difficult for both teams. Cincinnati coach, Mick Cronin, said “Finals weeks is tough because the guys have so many things going on mentally. When you come to practice, it’s hard to get their mind back, because their minds are fried a little bit”.
That perhaps makes the timing even more dangerous for Butler since it had to play a road game against Indiana State on Wednesday night, while the Bearcats have had the week off. Butler lost that game to the Sycamores, dropping it from the ranks of the undefeated to 8-1 on the season. Making matters worse for the Bulldogs is that this isn’t even the most important upcoming game on their schedule. They have a matchup against in-state rival and No. 9 ranked Indiana Hoosiers next Saturday.
This game will be a rematch from last season when Butler came to Fifth Third Arena and beat the Bearcats 78-76 on a Roosevelt Jones basket with a tenth of a second remaining.
Get To Know The Opponent
The team that beat the Bearcats last December is quite different than the team they’ll face on Saturday. Gone from the Bullodgs is their leading scorer from a year ago, Kellen Dunham, along with Roosevelt Jones, the player that made that game winning basket. Dunham and Jones were the senior leaders of a team that went 22-11 before losing to No. 4 Virginia in the NCAA tournament. This year’s team is led by junior forward Kelan Martin. Martin is a scoring machine from Louisville, Kentucky and was a finalist for Kentucky’s ‘Mr. Basketball’ before coming to Butler. He’s averaging 17.4 points per game this year and has scored more than 20 points on three separate occasions.
Seniors Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Lewis are also key members for this Butler team. Mick Cronin said “Chrabascz is a great college basketball player because he does everything well. Not just score - which he can really score - he’s a tough matchup, (we’re) concerned about him”. Chrabascz is a 6-7 forward from Portsmouth, Rhode Island that isn’t especially great at one thing, but good at everything. He’s averaging 10.9 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He’s the high basketball IQ, high motor, consummate teammate type that you often find at the heart of a team like Butler that Cronin says, “don’t do dumb things”.
Tyler Lewis is the Bulldogs’ point guard. He transferred from NC State two years ago, and played with the Bearcats’ Kyle Washington on the 2013-14 NC State Wolfpack team that went 22-14. Lewis is your prototypical pass-first point guard and has been tasked with looking for his shot more often this season. He’s raised his points per game to 8.7, but he’s a secondary offensive threat to players like Martin or Chrabascz.
Perhaps the scariest part of the Bulldogs roster is their bench depth that’s primarily made up of freshman and sophomores primed to take Butler to the next level. Freshman guards Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott were highly recruited scorers that are already having their presence felt on this Butler team. Baldwin hit a game-winning jumper against Northwestern, showing incredible poise for someone in just their second college game. 6’11” Joey Brunk and 6’10” Nate Fowler are the young big men that lead the way for the Butler bench. Fowler is well known to Bearcats fans. He’s a sophomore from Moeller High School in Cincinnati where he starred before having to sit out his entire senior season due to injury.
Time for Evans to Step (Back) Up
The Bearcats will be looking to Jacob Evans to provide some of the offensive firepower he showed in the early season. Evans averaged 22.3 points per game in the first three games of the season, but only 11.6 since. Cincinnati is at its best when Evans is breaking down defenses, getting to the basket and creating shots for himself and others. He shot just five times against Bowling Green last Sunday, and only 11 times in 42 minutes against Iowa State. The Bearcats will need him to be more aggressive against a team like Butler if they hope to pull off their second straight top 25 road win.
If you enjoyed the pace of UC-Iowa State...
Look for a slow-paced game filled with half-court offenses on Saturday. According to KenPom, Butler ranks 283rd in the nation in Adjusted Tempo, while the Bearcats rank 345th. The good news for Bearcats fan is that means plenty of opportunities for Kyle Washington and Gary Clark to shine. While Butler does have the young tandem of Brunk and Fowler to battle opposing bigs, they aren’t anywhere near ready to face players with the offensive talent of Washington or Clark. Both should be in position to be big contributors on Saturday.
Butler is good, but the Bearcats are legitimately more talented right now. Cincinnati is more athletic and more experienced, but Butler plays much smarter. This game is going to come down to whether Butler’s home court advantage, discipline and basketball IQ are enough to outweigh the Bearcats’ skill. In any week besides finals week I’d give the edge to Butler, but given that the Bearcats have had a week off, and Indiana is the next game on the Bulldogs’ schedule, I’m taking Cincinnati. I think they win this one 68-60 with Caupain and Washington serving as matchup nightmares for the Butler defense.