This will be the first meeting in history between these schools on the hardwood. The Bulldogs are ahead of UMass by one game in the Atlantic 10 standings entering Thursday as they both scramble to finish in the top four to earn a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tourney.
Brad Stevens’s Bulldogs are coming off a lopsided, 84-52 road loss to the Virginia Commonwealth Rams which marked their second consecutive setback and dropped them to a still impressive 22-7 overall record. Butler will conclude its regular season at home on Saturday when it hosts the Xavier Musketeers. All seven of the team’s losses have come to opponents inside the top 100 of the RPI and four of them have come in true road tests.
Rotnei Clarke tallied only five points for Butler in its loss to the Rams to snap a nine-game streak of double-digit finishes. Clarke is posting 16.5 ppg on 41.1 percent shooting from the floor to help Butler net 69.6 ppg. Senior center Andrew Smith adds 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds to the fold, while Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham both contribute over 10 ppg and Khyle Marshall is just under that mark to round out a dangerously balanced attack. The Bulldogs have been streaky though. After being held under 40 percent shooting from the field for three consecutive outings Butler has managed to surpass that mark in its past three contests.
UMass is coming off a pair of impressive victories versus Dayton (76-66) and at Xavier (77-72) that improved it to an 18-9 overall standing on the season. As one of the six A-10 programs with less than 10 losses on the campaign, the team is on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament field. The Minutemen can improve their chances dramatically with a victory over Butler and another at Rhode Island in their regular-season finale on Saturday.
Terrell Vinson paced all scorers with 20 points as the Minutemen notched an impressive road victory over the Xavier. Freddie Riley netted 18 points on 6- of-10 from 3-point range for UMass, which collected its second win after losing three-straight. Trey Davis chipped in 12 points and six assists off the bench. Chaz Williams has been impressive for the Minutemen this season, scoring 15.5 ppg with 7.4 apg. Vinson adds 12.5 ppg, while Cady Lalanne is the squad’s top rebounder, pulling down 7.1 rpg. UMass is a high-powered offense, averaging nearly 74.0 ppg with exactly 15 apg.
Despite the Bulldogs’ recent woes, it is hard to count them out in March. The Minutemen have been the overlooked school in the A-10 this season despite the stellar play of their floor general. Williams should keep UMass in contention with Butler, which will need Clarke to bounce back to avoid a third loss in a row.
Predicted Outcome: Butler 70, Massachusetts 66