The Matchup: Northwestern (3-0) @ Butler (3-0)
Location: Hinkle Field House (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Radio: WGN AM 720
Fun Fact: Despite Butler’s recent success NU leads the all-time series between the two schools 16-6. Of course, the teams haven’t met in 22 years.
The Importance of this Game
This is a critical game as Bill Carmody tries to build Northwestern’s program with his highly regarded freshmen class. Just like the ‘Cats, Butler enters the game 3-0 and most experts would tell you Butler’s wins are far more impressive. The Bulldogs have defeated Ball State, Drake, and IU-South Bend. Except for IU-South Bend who the Bulldogs dismantled 87-33, NU’s opponents would have to be considered weaker than Butler’s. As a result, winning this game would be a huge step forward in the quality win department for NU. I also think the win would give the Wildcats confidence when they play BCS conference opponents Florida State, DePaul, and Stanford later on this year.
Butler is led by 6-8 forward Matt Howard. He is the Bulldogs only returning starter from last year’s 30-4 team. Howard gained some hardware for his trophy case after last season when he was Horizon League Freshmen of the Year. Many expect him to pick up Player of the Year before he graduates from Butler. He currently 12 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Also of note on the Butler roster is guard Shelvin Mack. Mack is a freshman who averages 11.3 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. He is a very good shooter and could cause the NU zone some problems if he finds an opening. The other key freshman on Butler is forward Gordon Hayward. Hayward is another 6-8 player who can both score and rebound. He averages 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The matchup between Butler’s front line and the Wildcats will be the one to watch. Both front lines are relatively young, but Howard’s big game experience last year might give him a slight edge over Rowley, Mirkovic, and Shurna. Somehow, though, if Northwestern wants to win they have to find a way to limit Howard’s effectiveness. I would hope that maybe some of NU’s more athletic defenders can front him in the post and guard him out to the perimeter tightly.
Prediction: The smart money for this game is on Butler. The Bulldogs are at home and have far more experience. Many people seem resigned to the fact NU can’t beat such a solid team on the road, but this isn’t the Butler team from years past. I might be wearing purple filtered glasses, but I think NU has momentum. Northwestern, 58 Butler, 56