Marquette Golden Eagles (12-5) at Butler Bulldogs (12-6)
Last night we took a tough loss when we backed San Diego at Pacific. The Toreros are the more talented team and had the better record going in, but they couldn’t overcome the suddenly streaking Tigers at home. Pacific has now won back to back games against BYU and San Diego and is establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in WCC league play. Those conference road games are always tough ones, especially with the smaller schools. Today we will break down a matchup of Big East Conference foes when the Marquette Golden Eagles play the Butler Bulldogs.
The Marquette Golden Eagles will travel to famed Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to face the Butler Bulldogs Friday night in Big East Conference play. Marquette might be the most talented team that is not currently ranked in the top twenty-five, and they have won three of their last four games entering play tonight. The Butler Bulldogs showed they can hang with the elite of the Big East when they beat number one ranked and undefeated Villanova on December 30th. The Bulldogs have struggled since knocking off the best team in the land, and have dropped three straight in league play. The Bulldogs will be -4.5-point home favorites tonight. The game total over-under is set at 158.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM PST from Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Marquette Golden Eagles are a really good team. They are almost certainly the best five-loss team in the country. I know, I know, being the best team with a bunch of losses isn’t always the best thing, but if you look at who Marquette has played this year, their record is more than respectable.
Four of the Golden Eagles five losses have come against Purdue, Wichita State, Xavier, and Villanova, all teams that have spent time in the top five nationally this year. Their other loss is to a very good Georgia team that should make the NCAA tournament this year. None of those are at all bad losses, and the schedule has been a brutal one for the Golden Eagles.
Ok, so just losing close to good teams is one thing, but who have they beat you ask? The Golden Eagles have top 100 RPI wins against VCU, LSU, Georgetown, Providence, and Seton Hall. The Big East schedule is always full of landmines, and Marquette has beaten some good teams already in league play. They will play another one of those good teams tonight when they play the Butler Bulldogs.
Butler has had an up and down start to league play this season. They started out going 2-0 by beating a good Georgetown team on the road and then shocked the world when they beat the Villanova Wildcats at home. The Bulldogs were flying high, and all the sudden you were hearing the Bulldogs name tossed around as dark horse Final Four candidates.
Then the reality of Big East play set in and Butler lost their next three games to Xavier, Seton Hall, and Creighton. All three of those teams are ranked in the top twenty-five, and it shut down any nonsense talk about Butler being truly elite this year. There are no easy games in the Big East this season and Butler is feeling that pain right now.
Now we have to figure out who the real Butler is this season. Are they the team that beat Villanova, Georgetown, and Ohio State? Or are they the team that has lost three straight in league play and dropped games to Texas, Maryland, and Purdue earlier in the year? Any of you that may read my daily picks a lot will know my answer; as is almost always the case, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
This is a classic Big East style matchup. Two very good teams that are locks for playing meaningful games in March, battling it out. On a true neutral floor, I would put the Golden Eagles maybe a point or two ahead of Butler, but make no mistake these two teams are very evenly matched. When you look at Kenpom’s rankings, which is a great take on how good a team is, Marquette comes in at 39 and Butler at 42, very tight indeed.
To me, this game comes down to the number being so big. I expected this game to be Butler -1 or maybe -2, and wouldn’t have been shocked if it opened at even. Generally, the public likes to overreact to current trends, and the Bulldogs have lost three straight games. Instead, the Bulldogs open up as fairly large favorites in this one at -4.5. I don’t see any way that these teams aren’t stone even up and down the rosters and the only thing that separates them tonight is the Bulldogs big home court advantage, Hinkle is a tough place for opposing teams to play and win at.
I am expecting a very close, hard-fought game, where every possession matters. I see this one coming down to the wire and should be decided in the last few possessions. For that reason, I have no choice but to jump on the side getting the points, and back the road team. If I had to pick an outright winner I would lean towards taking Butler, they are great at home, and they are much better than their current three-game skid. But I won’t have to pick a winner tonight. I will take the points, sit back and watch a great game, and hope for a tight finish. Give me the Marquette Golden Eagles on the road getting +4.5 points.