Bulldog and basketball fans alike have good reason to turn their attention to Verizon Center this Saturday for the 5 p.m. tipoff between Georgetown (11-5, 3-2 Big East) and Butler (13-5, 3-2 Big East). Butler and its Bulldog ‘Blue III’ along with Georgetown and skateboarding Jack are part of a five-team logjam behind Villanova (16-1, 4-1 Big East) for second place in the Big East.
Strangely, these Big East foes have already played each other this season. On Nov. 28, the Bulldogs handed the Hoyas a 64-58 at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. This unconventional meeting occurred because the tournament pool was selected before Butler joined the Big East.
“Last game we were really aggressive. It was a battle the entire game — we just came up short, so I expect it will be another good game come this Saturday,” said freshman forward Isaac Copeland, who had his best game as a Hoya in the loss with 16 points and four rebounds. “It depends on the game — anybody can show up, and it was my game that game. I just found the rights spots, and my teammates found me.”
Butler is simultaneously trying to return to its former glory and adapt to its new, more competitive conference. Only three years ago, the Bulldogs had made back-to-back Final Four appearances, nearly defeating the Duke Blue Devils in the finals in 2010, under former Butler head coach and current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
However, in the years following their improbable NCAA performances, the Bulldogs have since been humbled — in their first season in the Big East last year, they finished 4-14, second to last in the conference.
“[There are] a lot of similarities, and there are a few differences. It’s really that simple — the personnel is the same; at their core, their energy is the same,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said of the brand of basketball currently being employed by Stevens’ successor Brandon Miller, who played point guard at the school from 2000 to 2003. “To beat them, you have to negate. You’re not going to take away, but if you limit their strength, which is their rebounding, and limit how they spread you out, [we can] get easy baskets in transition.”
Leading the Bulldogs’ offense is junior guard Kellen Dunham, who has shot 46 percent from the field and 47 percent from beyond the arc on his way to a team-high 16.8 points per game. Butler combines Dunham’s shooting prowess with a mix of undersized, yet versatile forwards to spread defenses out and create matchup problems.
“Dunham is an elite shooter and he gets [his shot] off fast, and they do a very good job of getting him shots,” Thompson said. “But they have basketball players — they have scorers. It’s not just, ‘Let’s stop this shooter.’ They have guys that can make plays across the board.”
Georgetown’s nonconference wins over Florida and Indiana have not held up as well as Hoya fans might have hoped because of the Gators’ and Hoosiers’ struggles in recent weeks.
In the short-term, a win Saturday would set Georgetown up nicely to welcome No. 5 Villanova on Monday night. Although the conference schedule is young, this two-game stretch could be crucial for the Hoyas’ March Madness resume.
“There are some bigger games with Butler and ’Nova on the schedule this week,” Mikael Hopkins said. “It’s the Big East conference, so a lot of times teams are definitely trying to protect home court, so when we go out there, we’re going to try to remain undefeated in the Big East at Verizon.”