Butler Bulldogs vs. Xavier Musketeers Pick & Prediction MARCH 13th 2024

By Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media

NEW YORK — Two weeks ago, Butler capped a five-game losing streak with a 23-point home loss to St. John’s that all but erased the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

Now, the Bulldogs must go on a run in the Big East tournament and get some outside help to restore their once promising season.

Entering with a NET rating of 65, eighth-seeded Butler opens the conference tourney on Wednesday against its biggest rival Xavier, the ninth seed.

“We know the Big East tournament’s going to be tough. This is the best conference in basketball. It’s going to be a battle every game,” Butler center Jalen Thomas said.

The winner gets top-seeded UConn on Thursday and Butler (18-13, 9-11) is hoping to keep its first winning season since 2019-20 going after it was a combined 38-52 in LaVall Jordan’s final two seasons and Thad Matta’s first season.

Butler went 3-6 down the stretch after a 99-98 win Feb. 2 at Creighton, which was ranked 13th at the time.

Before ending the season with an 82-63 win at cellar-dweller DePaul and a six-point win over Xavier last week, the Bulldogs averaged 62.8 points in a five-game skid that culminated with the loss to St. John’s.

Butler boasts four players scoring in double figures in Pierre Brooks II (14.8), DJ Davis (13.6), Jahmyl Telfort (13.6) and Posh Alexander (11.1). All four contributed to Butler’s win in the regular-season finale by combining for 59 points and contributing to a second straight solid defensive performance after the Bulldogs allowed 77.4 points during their skid.

Xavier (15-16, 9-11) heads into the tournament after enduring its first losing regular season since 1995-96. After winning 27 games and advancing to the Sweet 16 last season, the Musketeers ended the regular season by dropping six of their final eight games — with the two wins coming against Georgetown and DePaul.

Xavier ended the season with an 86-80 loss to No. 8 Marquette on Saturday. It marked the 11th time it allowed at least 80 points and its sixth conference loss by six points or fewer.

“The difference between being in fourth place and ninth place in this league is by about six plays,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “That’s what it is.”

Despite their defensive woes at times, the Musketeers boast a pair of dynamic scorers in Quincy Olivari and Desmond Claude.

Olivari finished as the Big East’s top scorer at 19.5 points and scored 32 against Marquette on Saturday and also posted a 43-point game against DePaul earlier this season. Claude was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player after seeing his scoring average jump from 4.7 points to 16.0 points in his sophomore season.

The teams have split four meetings in the Big East tournament and Butler claimed an 89-82 overtime victory in the eight-nine matchup two years ago.

–Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media

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