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College Basketball Pick
Gonzaga sits at the top of the WCC and Butler leads the Atlantic 10. This is like a March Madness game in January. Not a lot of teams like to play non-conference games in the middle of the conference season, but that's exactly what's going on here. How big is this game for Butler? Well, this will be the first time they host a Top 15 in the AP Poll while also being in the Top 15.
After starting the season with two losses in their first five games, Butler has slung together 12 straight wins, it's longest streak since the 2010-11 season. They already have two wins over Top 10 teams, although it's hard to consider North Carolina a true Top 10 squad with how they've looked. Still, you can't deny their overtime win over Indiana. One of their early season losses came against Illinois, a team that happens to be the only ones to beat Gonzaga.
As double-digit underdogs back in December, the Illini went to Spokane and did something that rarely happens, beat Gonzaga. While the Zags are a great a home team, this game will be played in Indianapolis. So far, so good for them as they already have five true road wins on the year. Gonzaga has a great road record throughout the years, but that may have something to do with their conference as they are only 3-6 on the road against ranked teams in their last nine. When faced with above average squads this year, they have struggled to pull away. Against Washington State and Oklahoma State, they only won be a combined three points.
The big problem for opposing defenses has been the improved play of Kelly Olynyk. The seven-footer has been somewhat of a revelation for the Zags as he's come out of nowhere and just dominated. He's averaging 18 points per game while hitting more than 66% of his shots. In his last three games, Olynyk is averaging over 28 points. You can't really double team him though because they have plenty of help at other positions, especially fellow big man Elias Harris who has never averaged fewer than 12 PPG in his four-year college career. In the backcourt Kevin Pangos can shoot the lights out (hit seven threes against Baylor) and David Stockton comes off the bench to provide a spark defensively and mix things up offensively.
Without leading scorer and Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, things will be a little harder for Butler to win this game. They may have looked good in their last game against Richmond, but Richmond isn't having that great of a year as it is. Clarke's minutes will be scattered throughout the lineup without one single player seeing a huge increase in court time. Two players that will need to pick up their offense in this game are Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham. The two were unable to get anything going against Richmond, shooting a combined 3-for-17 as Dunham went 2-for-10 from long range. Poor shooting performances won't beat one of the highest scoring teams in the nation.
Big man Andrew Smith saw plenty of the ball against the Spiders as well as he was their leading scorer with 15 points. Will he be able to do the same against Olynyk and Harris? He will need to if Butler wants to keep their winning streak alive.
Predicted Score - Gonzaga 75 Butler 66
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