Posted on January 19, 2013 at 12:51 AM
No. 8 Gonzaga (17-1, 4-0) visits 13th ranked Butler (15-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10) Saturday at 6:00 p.m. The Game will be played in legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse, and air on ESPN as College GameDay’s feature matchup.
The Stats – Gonzaga hadn’t shown much weakness through their first three West Coast Conference games, but one area they did want to improve on was rebounding. Despite the wins, they had were out-boarded by Pepperdine, Santa Clara and St. Mary’s. That was not the case against Portland, with GU holding a 36-22 advantage. That will be a point of emphasis against a team Mark Few said was one of the most physical in the country. Butler is 14th in the nation in rebound margin (8.4), and pulled down 53 in their most recent game against Richmond. Of those 53, 20 were on the offensive glass, which led to 21 second chance points. There’s no question, some of the game’s most important battles will take place around the rim.
The Stars – Butler will go without their star Saturday. Guard Rotnei Clarke suffered a neck injury last Saturday against Dayton, keeping the Bulldog’s leading scorer out of the lineup. Clarke was averaging 15.3 points, and had at least a share of the team scoring lead in 10 of their games. With Clarke out, Butler got most of its productivity from the post against Richmond. Andrew Smith, a 6-foot-11-inch center, led the way with 15 points to go with seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Roosevelt Jones (at 6-feet-4-inches) cleaned the glass in the form of a dozen rebounds, to go with 10 points. Those two will have a little more on their hands on Saturday, though. Kelly Olynyk had a typical Kelly Olynyk game against Portland – two points in the first half, 19 in the second. That gives him seven 20-plus point games in their last 10. Elias Harris was one rebound away from a double-double to go with his 10 points on a barrage of dunks. Harris has topped 15 points just twice in their last eight games, and could be due for a big showing Saturday.
The Storylines – These squads have caught fire in recent weeks, with Butler carrying a 12-game win streak into the meeting, four better than GU’s eight game run. Saturday’s clash marks the first time two top-15 squads have taken the Hinkle Fieldhouse floor. The Zags will try and hand Butler its first home loss of the year in their ninth appearance. Stevens’ squad has already topped a pair of top-10 teams this season, with wins over Indiana and North Carolina, who were ranked 1st and 9th respectively. These programs have followed similar trajectories. Now the discussion of the nation’s top mid-majors often begins with both Bulldogs. At this point few would be shocked to see either make a deep tournament run this spring. One thing is for sure, Saturday’s winner will get a well-deserved boost when it comes time to fill out the NCAA Tournament field.