The Matchup: Butler (1-0) @ Northwestern (1-0)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (7:00 PM November 18th)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: Butler returns all five starters and three All-American candidates from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.
About the Game
Before Kevin Coble got hurt his was a tough game for Northwestern. Now, it is a very tough game for Northwestern. Before Kevin Coble got hurt I thought Northwestern could win this game. Now, I’m not so sure. The reason for my doubt is that that Butler can score points. They return all five starters from last year’s team. I feel that at least four of those guys are legitimate offensive threats. On the other hand, Northwestern will be limited on offense all year until (or unless) Coble returns. Despite the 77-55 victory over NIU, I still think we’re going to see Northwestern play their old style of basketball where the ‘Cats work the ball around and use all 35 seconds on the shot clock in order to find the best shot more often than not. This might not please fans, but it will give NU the best chance to win against the Bulldogs and other highly rated teams.
Butler’s collection of shooting stars is led by 6-9 207-pound sophomore forward Gordon Hayward. He averaged 13.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg last season and was the Bulldogs leading scorer with 17 points in their season opening win over Davidson. The other guy that is scary good as an outside shooter is 6-1 junior guard Zach Hahn who will come off the bench. The good news is that other than Hayward and Hahn the Bulldogs aren’t great three point shooters (nobody else made over 40% last year). That means NU can use the 1-3-1 defense and pressure Butler guards Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack. The 6-3 Mack likely will pressure right back. Mack is a great defender and it will be interesting to see which assignment he draws on defense. Obviously guarding Michael “Juice” Thompson might be more natural, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mack spend time guarding Shurna or Crawford (or after Friday night Nash) to try and take away some of NU’s athletic advantages. This is where NU could get a lift from the athletic skill of Ivan Peljusic or Mike Capocci.
Inside Butler’s smaller than NU with 6-8 Matt Howard and 6-3 Willie Veasley, the Bulldogs second leading scorer with 15 points in their win over Davidson, joining Hayward in the front court. However, Howard is a force having scored 14.8 ppg and grabbed 6.8 rpg last season. The good news is that he is not a great three point shooter. Therefore, if Luka Mirkovic, Kyle Rowley, and Davide Curletti can deny the ball in the post it’ll make it tough for Howard to score unless he gets offensive rebounds. Veasley scored 8.9 ppg and grabbed 4.3 rpg and is another solid defender. He’s a tough matchup for NU, but the ‘Cats should have a size advantage no matter if they play Crawford, Peljusic or Capocci at the small forward spot.
Prediction: Before Kevin Coble’s injury I thought Northwestern would win this game. I figured a strongly pro-NU crowd in Welsh-Ryan would give Coble and the ‘Cats just enough to push them past the highly rated Bulldogs. I still expect to see a strongly pro-NU crowd as I’m not sure Butler is going to bring all that many fans to Evanston on a random Wednesday night. However, I think without Coble, NU will be just a little short of the needed fire power to beat this offensively minded Butler squad. Butler, 71 Northwestern, 65