Two of the nation’s top mid-majors collide in non-conference action on Saturday as top-25 foes Gonzaga and Butler square off at the Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Mark Few’s Bulldogs are once again eyeing up a West Coast Conference title. Gonzaga has won 17 of its first 18 games on the year with the lone loss coming against Illinois (85-74) on Dec. 8. Since then, the eighth-ranked Bulldogs have reeled off eight straight wins, including Thursday’s 71-49 rout of Portland.
Despite being in a new conference, Butler hasn’t missed a beat. Brad Stevens’ squad is 15-2 overall and already has high-profile wins over Marquette, North Carolina and Indiana. The Bulldogs bring plenty of momentum into this game as well, sporting a current 12-game win streak, including Wednesday’s 62-47 win over Richmond.
This is just the third meeting all-time between these highly successful programs. Butler won the first meeting in the 2006 NIT Season Tip-Off (79-71). Gonzaga evened things up with last year’s 71-55 rout in Spokane.
WCC leading scorer Kelly Olynyk netted 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds, leading Gonzaga to a lopsided win over the Pilots on Thursday. Point guard Kevin Pangos added 14 points to the cause, while forward Elias Harris just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Gonzaga is a dangerous offensive squad, averaging a WCC-best 80.3 ppg (seventh nationally). A trio of double-digit scorers highlight the Bulldog attack, led by Olynyk in the middle, with 18.3 ppg. A strong finisher around the basket, Olynyk ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage at 66.5 percent. Harris can fill up the basket as well, adding 14.6 ppg, while pacing the team on the boards (6.8 rpg). Pangos is both a potent scorer (12.4 ppg) and deft distributor (3.6 apg).
Butler is sitting atop the Atlantic 10 standings, so a change of conference has done little to hinder the team’s strong play. These Bulldogs are getting it done with efficient shooting (.460) and solid scoring depth, although that depth took a hit with a recent injury to top scorer Rotnei Clarke. The Arkansas transfer is averaging 16.3 ppg and is one of the nation’s top snipers (.444 from behind the arc), but suffered a neck injury two games ago and will not play in this contest. Others will certainly need to step up in Clarke’s absence. The likely candidates include center Andrew Smith (12.0 ppg), guard Kellen Dunham (10.5 ppg) and forward Khyle Marshall (10.5 ppg).
The Bulldogs were without Clarke in the win over the Spiders, using a strong defensive effort to earn the win. Butler absolutely owned the glass on both ends of the floor, grabbing 20 offensive boards and 53 rebounds altogether. Smith led the way with 15 points in the win. Dunham finished with 11 points, while Roosevelt Jones recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
This is a matchup of two teams that will certainly be around come tournament time. While Butler is home in this game, the absence of Clarke puts the hometown Bulldogs at a disadvantage.
Predicted Outcome: Gonzaga 70, Butler 65