No. 1 Villanova at No. 18 Butler, 6:30 p.m. (FS1): Villanova has a chance to all but lock their third straight Big East regular season title on Wednesday night when they square off with Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Entering Big East play, there were only three games on the schedule where the Wildcats even had a chance of being an underdog. One was at Creighton, where Villanova won. One will be when they play at Xavier. The last is tonight, at Butler, where Villanova opened as 4.5-point dogs and, as of 11:00 a.m. ET, are favored by 1.5 points.
So if Villanova wins tonight, there will only be one more game on their Big East slate where Jay Wright’s club will be expected to lose, and if there is anything we’ve learned about the Wildcats in these last three-plus years, it’s that they generally win the games they’re supposed to win; Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are 50-6 in Big East play in their careers, and that’s not a fluke.
A win tonight means Nova is 3-0 in the league, a game up on two of the league’s contender with two of their three toughest games out of the way already. That’s a good spot to be in.
But I do think Butler can win tonight.
It’s going to require a couple of things:
- Kelan Martin has to have a big game. The star small forward is an NBCSports.com midseason second-team all-american, averaging 18.1 points, and if the Bulldogs have a prayer of upsetting the undefeated No. 1 team in the country, they need their star to play like a star.
- Butler will have to run Villanova off of the three-point line, especially Kris Jenkins, who will get the benefit of matching up with one of Butler’s two bigs – Andrew Chrabacsz or Trent Wideman. But the Bulldogs cannot sacrifice defensive principles, particularly not with how good Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson have been in isolation this year.
- Villanova is not easy to run offense against because of the versatility of their defenders, but they’re not a team that forces turnovers, they don’t have shot-blockers at the rim and their switching can make them susceptible one-on-one. Butler has to be able to take advantage.
PREDICTION: That Villanova (-1.5) line is pretty tempting, especially given the fact that the Wildcats are just so good in crunch time. They win, and they do it by pulling away in the final minute.
No. 9 Louisville at No. 23 Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m. (ACC Network): I really do like this Notre Dame team. Matt Farrell has stepped into Demetrius Jackson’s shoes as Notre Dame’s next star point guard while Bonzie Colson is putting on for all of the world’s undersized big men. But Louisville has the nation’s best defense as well as one of the nation’s longest, most athletic and versatile rosters. This is not a good matchup for the Fighting Irish.
- PREDICTION: I know this game is in Purcell Pavilion, but I think the Cardinals cover (-2) pretty easily.
- Iowa State (+8) at No. 2 Baylor, 8:00 p.m. (ESPNNews): It’s been nearly three years to the day since the Cyclones beat Baylor, and the Bears have a front line that can overwhelm ISU. I like Scott Drew’s club (-8).
- No. 21 Virginia Tech (+1) at N.C. State, 9:00 p.m. (ACC Network): I’ve been all-in on the Hokies since September, and I’m not hopping off of that bandwagon just because Buzz Williams’ boys are heading to Raliegh. Give me VT plus the point.