Andrew Chrabacsz had 13 points and seven boards to lead No. 18 Butler and Kethan Savage added 13 huge points off the bench before fouling out as the Bulldogs upset No. 1 Villanova, 66-58, on Wednesday night.
The loss is Villanova’s first of the season. Jalen Brunson scored 23 points to lead the way for the Wildcats, but the NBC Sports midseason Player of the Year, Josh Hart, played an unusually poor game.
Here are four things to know after Butler’s win:
1. This was a huge win for Butler’s tournament profile: It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that Butler was able to knock off Villanova in Hinkle Fieldhouse. And it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that Butler is a good basketball team. The Bulldogs are ranked in the top 20. They opened as 4.5 point favorites against the No. 1 and undefeated Wildcats. KenPom projected the final score to be 70-69. Playing in front of 9,100 riled up Bulldog fans in Hinkle, these two teams are, essentially, equals.
A loss wouldn’t have changed that, especially if it was a close loss.
A win really doesn’t, either. Villanova is still a national title contender. Butler is still a team that can win a game like this at home and lose to a team like St. John’s on the road. What this win does do, however, is gives the Wildcats something to hang their tournament résumé on, and I say that knowing just how impressive Butler’s profile already is. They won at Utah. They won a neutral court game against Arizona in Vegas, which means it wasn’t really all that neutral. They beat Indiana on a neutral. They beat Cincinnati. Their win over Northwestern keeps looking better and better.
And now they have a win over a team that will be, at worst, in the top ten of all metrics come Selection Sunday.
2. This is good news for everyone in the Big East: Because it means that the league title race isn’t quite over yet. There is only going to be one more game during Big East play where Villanova will enter as an underdog – at Xavier – and I’m not convinced they won’t be favored in that game by the time that lines close. Put another way, a win against Butler would mean that Villanova would be 3-0 in the league with victories in two of the three toughest games they are going to play.
Villanova is still the heavy favorite to win their fourth-straight regular season title. This is just their seventh conference loss since Josh Hart, a senior, enrolled in school. They hadn’t lost since March 12th, 2016, and hadn’t lost a regular season game since Feb. 24th. This win for Butler means that door is just a little bit more open for the Bulldogs, as well as Creighton and Xavier.
3. Kethan Savage made big plays down the stretch: Savage is a transfer from George Washington. A 6-foot-4, athletic combo-guard, Savage was a double-figure scorer for the Colonials, but he missed the first four games of the season and struggled to find his way into the rotation in non-conference play due to a mystery illness; could’ve been mold, could’ve been pneumonia, the doctors didn’t really seem to know.
But Savage is back now. He scored 10 points in each of the first two Big East games, and followed that up with 13 points in 21 minutes against Villanova. He scored three critical baskets late in the game, providing the spark that led to a game-changing, 11-2 run that put Butler up 58-52 with two minutes left. Butler doesn’t really have another guy like him – a big, athletic slasher that can create off the bounce – and his addition certainly changes their look for the better.
4. Does Villanova need a third option?: Jalen Brunson’s scoreline is going to look impressive – he finished with 23 points, but he didn’t play nearly as well as he did against Creighton. Josh Hart made a couple shots late, but he was, overall, not himself. He finished with 13 points, eight boards and three assists, but he was just 3-for-11 from the floor, battled foul trouble for most of the second half and committed an incredibly costly turnover in the final minute.
It seemed, at times, that Villanova’s offense would get bogged down. Much of that credit goes to Butler, who played well defensively, but it was a bit concerning that Villanova didn’t seem to have an answer down the stretch. Maybe I’m just making too much of this, and maybe it should be a good sign that Villanova could have those issues and still play a winnable game at Butler, but it’s something I’ll be monitoring moving forward.