No. 22 Xavier hasn’t played since losing on the road to Villanova on Dec. 21. However, that layoff hasn’t been the fault of the Musketeers (11-2, 1-1 Big East), who are scheduled to visit Butler (8-5, 1-1) on Friday night in Indianapolis.
Xavier had its conference bye scheduled for the week between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, and then its Tuesday game at Georgetown was postponed due to a COVID-19 pause on the part of the Hoyas.
“We’re excited to get out here and play,” said Xavier coach Travis Steele, who said his team has been “sharpening our saw” during multiple practices as it has prepared for the Bulldogs.
Steele said earlier this week that his team was “completely healthy” and had no COVID-19 issues — “knock on wood” — and that he thus expected all his players to be available for the game.
“We’ve been able to practice every day,” Steele said, but “we had to find ways to keep them engaged.”
One of those ways was to hold intra-squad scrimmages. Steele even brought in officials to work those.
“We tried to make it as game-like as we possibly could,” Steele said.
Still, the coach acknowledged, “We all get in such a rhythm. … You can’t lose that edge.”
Steele added that against a patient team such as Butler, “You have to take care of the ball. You can’t be sloppy. It’s going to be a low-possession game, so you have to value the ball and you have to value each possession.”
Butler lost to No. 24 Seton Hall 71-56 on Tuesday at home and scored only 40 points in the last 33 minutes of the game.
“We had good starts to both halves,” said Butler coach LaVall Jordan, whose team led 16-9 at one point. “We didn’t sustain. We’ve got to do a better job on the offensive side of the side of the ball.
“I thought we had a good start,” he added. “(Seton Hall) made some adjustments. We’ve got to adjust better as coaches and put our guys in better positions.”
Butler was hurt in that game by the fact that leading scorer Chuck Harris scored no points and went 0-for-5 from the floor, blanketed by Seton Hall’s top perimeter defender, Myles Cale.
Jordan also noted that the Bulldogs had 13 turnovers and only nine assists that night.
“We’ve got to do a better job of decision-making,” he added.
The Musketeers have four scorers averaging in double figures, led by Nate Johnson (13.2) and Jack Nunge (12.5). Preseason first-team All-Big East selection Zach Freemantle (8.3 points, 4.4 rebounds) still is rounding into form after missing the first six games because of a foot injury.
Butler guard Bo Hodges, who averaged 8.2 points last season, has yet to play this season because of a knee injury and a non-COVID-19 illness.
“I’m anticipating Bo Hodges to play,” Steele said. “They look a heck of a lot different when he’s out there on the floor. He’s a great defender.”
–Field Level Media