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This was supposed to be the big showdown to determine the winner of the Atlantic 10, but Saint Louis has other plans as they sit alone in first place. Butler gets a full week to stew in what should have been.
With a five-point lead at home going into halftime against the Billikens, Butler was ready to even the season series, but Saint Louis came charging out in the second half and got a big road win. Now with only three regular season games left, the Bulldogs are all but out of the title hunt as they have four conference losses.
VCU also lost at Saint Louis last week, but they never really got close. The Rams had to come back from 17 down at Xavier on Saturday to get their 10th win in conference play. A win here for VCU would insure they finish above Butler in the regular season standings.
This is their only matchup of the season and both teams sit at 22-6 with very similar resumes. In fact, the last time these two schools faced off was back in the 2011 Final Four when an 8-seeded Butler took out 11-seeded VCU. Both teams have come a long way since those Cinderella runs and now are staples in the college basketball scene, led by coaches Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart.
The Rams haven't been impossible to beat at home as seen in their two losses to Wichita State and La Salle. Butler hasn't really had much success in true road games against top teams. Butler has three road losses at Xavier, La Salle and Saint Louis. They weren't really competitive in the Xavier and Saint Louis games, but came within one point against the Explorers. This game will be a true test of where both teams are at heading into postseason play.
Neither has been very hot, but Butler's two home losses in their last four games don't bode well. Their offense has yet to come through in a big game since they scored 88 points in overtime against Indiana. In their four conference losses, the Bulldogs are averaging under 60 points per game. They average 70.2 PPG for the season.
Leading scorer Rotnei Clarke hasn't had much trouble scoring getting at least 13 points in nine straight games since his return from injury. His problem has been turnovers averaging 4.1 per game in those nine contests. Outside of Clarke, their production is somewhat consistent, from a few guys at least. Andrew Smith and Roosevelt Jones are both getting to double digits most games, but that's about it. However, in the close games, both have gotten into foul trouble with Jones fouling out in their two losses. If either gets into foul trouble again, it won't help their chances of winning. Freshman Kellen Dunham will have to be his usual self hitting shots from behind the arc. He had 14 points in the loss to Saint Louis.
VCU's defense is the main thing opponents prepare for when facing them. They call it 'Havoc' for a reason. Butler gets a full week to prepare for it which helps, but it will take a lot of work to execute on the road.
A couple of the best ball thieves in the nation are at the front of VCU's press with Briante Weber and Darius Theus. The two average a combined 4.7 steals per game, yet only 11.8 combined points per game. The scoring comes from other areas, mainly Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic. Both of them average close to 15 PPG and either can go off any given night. Those two are supplemented by three-point gunner Troy Daniels and the all-around play of Rob Brandenburg.
The Bulldogs have a nice win over Indiana, but it would impress voters just the same if they can get a big conference road win at VCU.
Predicted Score - VCU 69 Butler 64
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